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Pro-Syrian Protesters Rally in Beirut

Protesters carried Lebanese flags and pictures of Syrian President Bashar Assad with signs reading, “Syria & Lebanon brothers forever,” reported the Associated Press.

Other signs said, “America is the source of terrorism” and “All our disasters are from America.” Cranes propped up two massive Lebanese flags with “Thank you Syria” written in English on one and “No to foreign interference” on the other.

The protest occurred in front of U.N. offices in Riad Solh Square in central Beirut. Hezbollah opposes the U.N. resolution drafted by the United States and France last year calling for Syria to withdraw its 14,000 troops from Lebanon.

In Washington, President Bush called for a full troop pullout from Lebanon before Lebanese parliamentary elections in May as part of a broader democracy movement in the Middle East.

“The Lebanese people have the right to choose their own parliament this spring free of intimidation,” he told an audience at the National Defense University.

Syrian President Bashar Assad and Lebanese President Emile Lahoud have agreed to a partial troop pullback. The two leaders said Monday that Syrian troops will leave the capital city of Beirut by March 31 and redeploy in the Bekaa Valley along the Lebanon-Syria border.

Syria has been a dominant force in Lebanese affairs since it sent troops to intervene in Lebanon’s civil war in 1976. The Taif accord, which ended the war in 1990, called for Syria to pull its troops back to the Bekaa Valley and then negotiate a further withdrawal with the Lebanese government.

The agreement to withdraw some troops followed the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri, a critic of Syria’s influence in the country. Many Lebanese blamed Syria for the assassination, which prompted days of anti-Syrian protests in Beirut.

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