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Lebanese Opposition Leader Returns from Nearly 15 Years in Exile


Michel Aoun
A prominent Lebanese opposition leader is returning home after nearly 15 years in exile to a hero's welcome. Supporters gathered in downtown Beirut to welcome him.

Thousands of supporters gathered in Martyrs' Square in downtown Beirut to welcome former General Michel Aoun, the leader of the Free Patriotic Movement. The crowd, dressed in the party's bright orange t-shirts, waved thousands of Lebanese flags and chanted "General."

General Aoun told the crowd he has finally returned to lead the people, and no one can replace him.

He went to exile in France in 1991, after failing to evict Syrian troops during some of the civil war's fiercest fighting. Syrian troops completed their withdrawal from Lebanon in April. On Thursday, Lebanese authorities dropped a warrant for the general's arrest, paving the way for his return ahead of parliamentary elections scheduled to take place at the end of the month.

Middle East analyst Adib Farha, a Lebanese University professor and former government advisor, explains why he believes Lebanese authorities, viewed as pro-Syrian, facilitated the return of the exiled leader.

"The return of Michel Aoun, although it is fair and should have happened a long time ago, is likely to cause further cracks in the opposition, because, whereas the guy's heart is in the right place, he is a maverick," said Adib Farha. "It is hard to predict what he might do."

Lebanon's opposition groups banded together after the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in February to press their demands for the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon. Now, the opposition is realigning behind specific party candidates before the parliamentary elections, which begin on May 29.

Parliament met again on Saturday to discuss revising an election law from 2000 that the opposition says favors pro-Syrian candidates, but legislators were unable to resolve the issue.

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