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Lebanese Prime Minister Resigns Amid Mass Protests

BY Admin  February 28, 2005 at 4:03 PM EST

Karami said in a brief statement, ”Out of concern that the government does not become an obstacle to the good of the country, I announce the resignation of the government I had the honor to lead.”

His cabinet resigned along with him during a debate on a no-confidence measure in the Lebanese parliament.

Karami’s Syrian-backed government has come under pressure since the Feb. 14 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, whose death many in Lebanon blame on Syria or its supporters in the Lebanese government, the Associated Press reported. Both governments have denied involvement in Hariri’s assassination.

In the two weeks following Hariri’s death, tens of thousands of demonstrators have held street protests, calling for Lebanon’s pro-Syrian government to step down and for Syria to withdraw its 15,000 troops positioned in Lebanon.

Upon hearing Karami’s announcement, jubilant protesters celebrated, some chanting “Syria out!” and “Freedom, sovereignty, independence.”

The opposition’s main figure, Walid Jumblatt, said the “people have won” and called for calm.

“I believe the main aim was to bring down the government. We have achieved this,” Jumblatt told Lebanon’s LBC television, according to Reuters.

“Today we are at a new turning point in the history of the country. … We have entered a stage where there must be calm.”

Several opposition figures also called for popular protests to continue until Syria completely pulls out of Lebanon.

“The opposition announces the continuation of the protests until the total Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon,” Elias Atallah told a group of protesters minutes after Karami’s announcement.

“The battle is long, and this is the first step, this is the battle for freedom, sovereignty and independence,” opposition MP Ghattas Khouri said, according to Reuters.

In Washington, D.C., the White House praised the resignation of Lebanon’s pro-Syria prime minister and his government on Monday, saying it opens the door for new elections there that are “free of all foreign interference” from neighboring Syria.

“We are closely watching developments with great interest,” White House press secretary Scott McClellan said. “The resignation of the Karami government represents an opportunity for the Lebanese people to have a new government that is truly representative of their country’s diversity.”

Lebanon’s president must now appoint a prime minister after discussing the matter with members of Parliament. The new prime minister then consults parliamentary blocs to create a Cabinet that can withstand a confidence vote.

The caretaker government will lead Lebanon until parliamentary elections, already planned for May, are held.