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Beirut Protest Camp Dismantled After Deal Signed in Doha


Lebanon's feuding political leaders have signed a deal in Qatar to end their long-running political crisis, which erupted into sectarian violence earlier this month that killed at least 67 people. They agreed on a national unity government that gives the opposition veto power. The election of a new president is expected on Sunday. Within an hour of the signing of the deal, opposition members began dismantling the protest camp outside the prime minister's office that has virtually shut down central Beirut for the last year and a half. VOA Correspondent Challiss McDonough has more from the Lebanese capital.

Most of the tents were down within a few hours of the signing of the deal in Doha, but some parts of the protest camp took a little longer to dismantle. All afternoon, opposition members and municipal workers were taking apart stages and makeshift structures. Some people crammed furniture into cars and trucks, while others carried away boxes of religious artwork that had decorated the canvas walls.

A young Hezbollah supporter from south Lebanon who gave his name as Mujahid said he had been living in the tent camp since it went up outside the prime minister's office a year and a half ago.

He said he and other opposition members are happy with the Doha deal, because all they wanted was full participation in the government.

At the signing ceremony in Doha, Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa portrayed the political agreement as a triumph of the Lebanese principle of "no victor, no vanquished," and the deal has been welcomed by the regional and international backers of both sides, including Iran, Saudi Arabia and the United States.

But the composition of the new national unity government gives Hezbollah and its allies enough cabinet posts to wield a veto on any government decisions. That had been their central demand throughout the 18-month protest.

Watching the tents come down, computer science student and Amal party member Mohammed Sahily, 21, and his friends sounded confident as they said the opposition had gotten what it wanted, but he also tried not to portray it as a full victory.

"No, nobody won, nobody won. It's just like, we saved our country," he said.

His friend and classmate, Mohammed Mahmoud, acknowledged that it may be hard at first for the two sides to live and work together after such prolonged hostility, and especially after the violence that erupted earlier this month, in which at least 67 people died. But he believes it can happen.

"The Lebanese are accommodated to that," he explained. "They fight today, and tomorrow they are very good."

A middle-aged Lebanese man who now lives in Canada, Ali Yazbeck, said he was glad the 18-month-long protest had ended peacefully, but had some cynical words for Prime Minister Fuad Siniora.

"Mr. Siniora could have saved one year and a half of their time and their effort and give what he's given right now," he noted. "They don't ask for anything more."

Some supporters of the government are unhappy with the settlement, saying it amounts to Hezbollah and its allies winning a political victory through use of force.

Analysts warn that some of the most critical issues were not resolved in Doha, and will require more negotiations. They include what to do about Hezbollah's weapons arsenal, as well as Lebanon's relationship with Syria and its cooperation with the U.N. tribunal investigating the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in 2005.

But most Lebanese seem relieved that the crisis is over, at least for now. Earlier in the day, downtown shopowners celebrated in the streets. Their businesses have been hard-hit by the 18-month protest, and they are now hoping for a revival.

Many other people in Beirut feel the same way. A woman named Gloria Sacre came downtown to watch the tents being dismantled. She said she does not know much about politics, but will be happy to have downtown back.

"I am happy, first," she said. "And I think it's an achievement, it's a big achievement. But the one who really helped this achievement is the prayers of the citizens. They pushed up the people of government, because many, many are praying in secret."

Sacre says she hopes life in Lebanon will get back to normal.

Sacre says she was studying music at a conservatory nearby, but had to abandon her lessons when the protest started and the building was sealed off because of its proximity to the prime minister's office. She says on Tuesday night, as the talks in Doha seemed on the verge of collapse, she wrote a song for her homeland.

"Oh Lebanon," she sings, "I came back to you. I want to sing in you, I want to be happy in you. I want to wait in you for the return of my brothers and sisters."

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