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Beirut Protesters Defy Ban on Demonstrations

Hours before the Lebanese parliament is to vote on a motion of no confidence in the government, thousands of demonstrators, waving Lebanese flags demonstrated in Beirut's Martyr's Square.

The atmosphere was electric among the thousands of demonstrators who had gathered in Beirut's historic Martyrs Square to demand the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon and the resignation of the government. The demonstrations have swelled since the assassination of popular former Prime Minister Hariri, earlier this month. Protesters believe Syria was involved in the murder - a scenerio Syria denies.

Opposition politicians harangued the crowd, many of whom had camped out overnight, to get around a curfew imposed by the government.

Long-time member of parliament and opposition figure Butros Harb told the swarm of demonstrators, waving red and white Lebanese flags, that the Lebanese opposition will continue protesting until Lebanon recoveres its freedom.

Lebanese Army troops blocked most access roads to Beirut's city center to enforce a government imposed curfew. However, they allowed protesters to gather.

The Lebanese parliament is to meet, Monday afternoon, to debate a motion of no-confidence in pro-Syrian Prime Minister Omar Karameh's government. Prime Minister Karameh told satellite television station al Arabiyah his government continues to enjoy the support of a majority of Lebanese.

Opposition politicians are calling for an interim national unity government and the withdrawal of Syria's estimated 14,000 troops from Lebanon.

Syria has said it is willing to apply the 1989 Taef Agreement, stipulating it redeploy its troops to Lebanon's Bekaa Valley, but is refusing a complete withdrawal. Both the United States and France have told Syria it must honor United Nations resolution 1559, which calls on Damascus to remove all of its troops from its smaller neighbor.

Syrian troops first entered Lebanon in 1976, just months after the outbreak of the country's civil war, and have remained there, dominating the country's political scene, since then.