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Beirut Activists Vow to Keep Up Fight Despite Syrian Withdrawal

Many occupants of an impromptu tent-city in downtown Beirut called Camp Freedom say they are staying put, despite the withdrawal of Syrian forces last week, a key demand of their protest.

Many residents of the tent-city located in Martyr's Square, returned to their homes last week after Syrian troops left Lebanon. But protesters like Michel Lahoud say the Syrian pull out was only part of the freedom they are demanding. "The Syrian troops are out of Lebanon. For them, it is enough. For us, it is not enough. We want other demands," he said.

Lahoud and many others remaining in the camp are concerned that parliamentary elections, scheduled for later this month, will not be free and fair if held under the election laws established in 2000.

University student and Camp Freedom protester, Rudolph Nicholas says their groups oppose those laws because of the connection with Syria. "The election of 2000, it was the Syrians that made this election and we do not want it. We want the new ones," he said.

The elections of 2000 established larger electoral districts, which the opposition feels do not reflect the many diverse sects of the Lebanese population. Anti-Syria groups favor smaller districting for voting.

An attempt to introduce the election issue in parliament last week failed and pro-Syrian groups say they will have to go by the 2000 standard. The issue is expected to be addressed again this week.

As the Lebanese flag and flags with the word "freedom" fly high over Camp Freedom, residents say they are also waiting for the release of Lebanese prisoners they believe are still being held in Syria. Syria denies holding the prisoners.

A U.N. team is in Lebanon to ensure Syria has fully removed all of its troops and intelligence forces, and another team is investigating the assassination of Rafik Hariri. But so far, Lebanon has not asked the United Nations to assist with the elections scheduled for May 29.