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Lebanon Begins Search for New Government


Lebanon's pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud has been consulting members of parliament on the formation of a new government, amid expectation he will restore the recently resigned prime minister Omar Karami.

According to participants in the meetings, large numbers of legislators are telling President Lahoud they want Mr. Karami reappointed.

The 70-year-old Mr. Karami resigned on February 28 amid mass protests over the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

Opposition lawmakers, who hold about a third of the seats in the 128-member parliament, are not proposing a candidate for prime minister. Instead, they have a list of demands including an international investigation into the Hariri killing, which they blame on Syria. Damascus denies involvement.

One opposition member of parliament and leader of the Christian community, Samir Frangie, is dismissive of President Lahoud.

"Lahoud, at the end, is a Syrian creation. He has nothing to do with the reality of our society," he said.

The talks came a day after hundreds of thousands of people rallied in Beirut in support of Syria, and in rejection of the U.S.-led campaign for Syria to immediately withdraw its troops and intelligence services from Lebanon, as demanded by the U.N. Security Council.

The demonstration was organized by Hezbollah, the Syrian-backed militant group listed as a terrorist organization by the United States. The U.N. resolution requires the Hezbollah militia to disarm.

In Damascus, tens of thousands of Syrians have demonstrated in support of President Bashar al-Assad's Lebanon policy.

Syria has begun a pullback of its 14,000 troops to Lebanon's eastern Bekaa Valley, with further talks to be held with Lebanon on when all the troops will return to Syria.

President Bush is demanding the Syrians get out now so Lebanon can stage free and fair parliamentary elections due by the end of May.

Syria has not spelled out a timetable for the withdrawal, but the Syrian ambassador to Washington, Imad Moustapha, says Syria will be out before the May voting.

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