Lebanon Reinstates Pro-Syrian Prime Minister

In a meeting with Lebanese President Emile Lahoud, 70 of 78 legislators present — many of them government loyalists — advised him to reappoint Karami, the Associated Press reported.

The vote will likely result in Karami running the next government.

During the same meeting, lawmakers opposed to Syria’s highly influential presence in the country — the main gripe of the opposition movement — did not offer an alternative to Karami, but did reiterate calls for a new government, the complete withdrawal of Syrian troops and Syrian intelligence agents from Lebanese soil and an investigation into the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, Reuters reported.

Hariri’s family and government opponents have implicated Syrian and Lebanese government forces in the death of the popular leader.

Karami’s return to power would be a slap in the face for thousands of Lebanese protestors, many of whom took to the streets Feb. 28 calling for Karami’s ouster and for the end of Syria’s influence over their country. The United States backs this position and has commanded Syrian President Bashar Assad to immediately withdraw his troops or risk sanctions.

Karami heeded protestors and the same day announced he would step down. He has been overseeing the day-to-day operations of the government until a new one is formed, according to the AP.

In Damascus Wednesday, thousands of Syrians held a rally in support of Assad’s leadership. Crowds waved Syrian flags, chanted and held banners hailing their president.

“We are all with you, you make the right decision,” read one banner, according to the AP. Another read: “Nobody can get Syria out from Lebanon’s heart and mind.”

Syria has begun recalling its more than 14,000 troops from parts of Lebanon, following an announcement Monday from Assad and Lahoud that troops would be pulled back to the eastern Bekaa Valley near the Syria-Lebanon border.

Neither official gave a completion date for the full withdrawal, though the United States is pushing for Syria’s retreat before Lebanese elections scheduled for May.

On Wednesday, speaking during a meeting with Romanian President Traian Basescu, President Bush called Assad’s plan “a half measure,” the AP reported.

“One thing a lot of people don’t understand is Syrian influence is heavy-handed through the involvement of intelligence services throughout the government,” the president said. “And they must remove both for the election to be free.”

President Bush also said the administration would work with its allies to determine what measures to put in place if Syria fails to heed U.S. and U.N. warnings to withdraw.