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Lebanese Mark Civil War Anniversary During Political Crisis


Lebanon is observing what is called a Unity Day to mark the 30th anniversary of the outbreak of civil war in 1975.

For the first time, Lebanese have been called on to take part in national reconciliation events to remember the war that killed 150,000 people.

Lebanon's Future Television recalls for viewers the somber toll of the country's 15-year civil war, before reminding them that such a war must never be repeated. The Beirut press is also observing the civil war anniversary by running banner headlines such as "the war is over," "let us remember" and "never again."

The commemoration of the civil war, which ended in 1990, has special significance because of political turmoil following the February 14 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik al Hariri. Mr. Hariri's sister, Bahiya, a member of parliament, organized the Celebration of National Unity for Lebanese of all religious denominations.

Overnight, Lebanese lit thousands of candles in Beirut's Martyr's Square, as a tribute to war victims.

Crowds of mostly young people, few of whom remember the war, gathered to chant and pray.

American opera star Jessye Norman sang "Ave Maria", via satellite from a New York City church, and a group of Sufi whirling dervishes entertained the audience with its dancing.

Meanwhile, a final vestige of the war, Syria's occupation, is drawing to a close, as Damascus removes the last of its soldiers. Withdrawing an estimated 10,000 troops during the past month, Syria reportedly has fewer than 4,000 soldiers deployed in eastern Lebanon's Bekaa Valley.

But the country remains in political turmoil and has been without a government for six weeks since pro-Syrian Prime Minister Omar Karameh resigned in the face of massive opposition protests after Mr. Hariri's death. Many Lebanese blamed Syria for the assassination.

The failure to form a new government has caused the opposition to charge pro-Syrian politicians are trying to delay elections due to be held by the end of May. Opposition politicians say a general strike and fresh demonstrations could be held if the pro-Syrian side continues to block the formation of a cabinet.

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