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Lebanese Protesters Demand International Probe of Hariri Assassination

Thousands of demonstrators marched in central Beirut to call for an international investigation into the assassination last week of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri. The massive demonstration also called for the quick removal of Syrian troops in Lebanon, as well as an end to Syrian dominance of the Lebanese government.

Chanting "freedom, sovereignty and independence" thousands of Lebanese citizens marched through the streets of Beirut waving flags and demanding that Syria end its political and military presence in Lebanon.

The massive demonstration occurred one week after the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, who resigned last October after publicly protesting a Syrian demand that President Emile Lahoud be appointed for an additional three-year term in office.

Political observers in Beirut say the country has rarely seen the kinds of demonstrations that have occurred since the death of Mr. Hariri, who was a self-made billionaire and is credited with rebuilding Lebanon following the destruction of the 1975-to-1990 civil war.

The head of the political science department at Lebanese-American University in Beirut is Sami Baroudi. He says while he has never seen the kind of public anger in Lebanon that has been shown over the past week, he does not believe it will escalate into widespread violence.

"The mood is not one of, 'let us jump once more into a civil war'. Also, the people who like Hariri and follow him are not hard people. They are not a violent crowd," he said. "So, I do not think it will really resort to violence. I mean, we may see more assassinations, car bombings, but those are the workings of specialized groups. I do not think the population is about to launch into another round of destructive violence."

Many opposition groups in Lebanon have blamed Damascus for the assassination of Mr. Hariri and are demanding an international investigation into his death.

But, the head of the Center for Asian Studies at Cairo University, Mohammed el-Sayed Selim, says while Mr. Hariri may have had public disagreements with Damascus, he says Syria would have too much to lose by killing the most powerful political figure in Lebanon.

"I do not think that Syria was behind the assassination of Rafiq Hariri because the Syrians know that this will really mean a big blow to their status in the region," he said. "So, the fact that he had some disagreement with Syria does not mean that Syria was involved in this. I think there are some other powers, who do not want to stabilize the region, who could be behind this."

Monday, demonstrators observed a minute of silence at the exact moment Mr. Hariri was killed in a massive explosion that ripped through his motorcade in Beirut and also took the lives of more than a dozen other people.

Opposition groups are calling for the Lebanese parliament to resign, and are demanding that a new government be formed. They are also demanding a complete withdrawal of 19,000 Syrian troops in the country and an end to Syrian dominance of Lebanese politics.

But many political observers in Lebanon and the Middle East have predicted that demonstrations will eventually subside and that Syrian control over Lebanese politics will remain intact.