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Lebanon's Prime Minister Offers to Step Down


Lebanon's pro-Syrian prime minister signaling he is ready to resign to help restore order in the country. Many Lebanese blame Syria for a huge bomb attack that killed former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and 17 others last week. Syria has denied a role in the Hariri assassination, but tensions are running high.

Lebanon's pro-Syrian Prime Minister Omar Karameh says he is ready to quit and other top Syrian allies in the government are sounding worried. Mr. Karameh told Beirut's An Nahar newspaper that he would be willing to give way if there was "consensus over a new government, rather than chaos."

Opposition politician Marwan Hamadeh, who survived an alleged Syrian attack on his life last November, also insists the government must go, because "things can not continue as they are."

Mr. Karameh says he will seek a vote of confidence for his government in parliament on Monday, if the opposition does not ask for it. Pro-government politicians control most of the seats in Lebanon's parliament.

In neighboring Syria, a group of writers, artists, and rights activists issued an open letter to President Bashar al-Assad calling for his government to withdraw from Lebanon. Syria's official Baâth daily is deploring what it calls the "climate of war in Lebanon".

Saudi Ambassador to Lebanon, Abdelaziz Khoja, is saying, after meeting Lebanon's foreign minister, that Syria is prepared to "apply the 1989 Taef Accord, and redeploy its troops in Lebanon."

The Arab daily Asharqalawsat says that Western governments are considering freezing Syrian assets abroad to pressure Damascus. After meeting the past two days with European allies, President Bush said that he would wait to see Syria's response to his call for a complete withdrawal from Lebanon before they seek new U.N. sanctions against Damascus.

Meanwhile, Syrian workers fleeing the country in the wake of recent unrest are reportedly causing disruptions to the Lebanese economy. In Beirut, where anti-Syrian sentiment is running high, several incidents of Lebanese demonstrators beating up Syrian immigrant workers have been reported.

The Arab daily Al Hayat estimates that 800,000 Syrian workers in Lebanon send home nearly $1 billion each year.

One Syrian worker complained to the VOA he was "afraid to venture too far from home" for fear of being attacked.

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