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Pro-Syrian Demonstrators Jam Lebanese Capital

Hundreds of thousands of protesters jammed a main square in Beirut to express support for Syrian troops in Lebanon, and to denounce the United States and Israel.

"We are not oppressed people," the demonstrators chanted. "We are not under occupation."

They were expressing solidarity with Syria, which has been under intense international pressure, led by the United States, to immediately and completely pull its 14,000 troops out of Lebanon.

Syria has begun troop redeployment to Lebanon's eastern Bekaa Valley, but Washington calls the move a "half-measure."

The Beirut rally was organized by Hezbollah, an Iranian and Syrian-backed Shi'ite Muslim militant group considered a terrorist organization by the United States.

To fulfill a U.N. Security Council resolution demanding that Syria leave Lebanon, Hezbollah also would have to dismantle its militia.

Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah used his speech to denounce President Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

Among the crowd there was not only strong support for Syria, but anger towards Israel and the United States.

"We all, as Lebanese, [are] 100 percent with the Syrians. [It is] not intervention because we have very good relations," said one man. "I mean we believe that we are one people, we live in two separate countries."

"We hate the U.S. We hate Israel," said one woman. "Because they interfere in our national issues. They should interfere in their issues. Leave us alone."

"Syria supported our resistance, they are people who saved this land," said another protester. "We do not just want to throw them out of our country. Let them stay. It is okay."

The huge rally dwarfed the size of anti-Syrian protests that began following the February 14 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Syria has denied involvement in the killing, but many Lebanese call for Damascus to remove its troops and spies.

Supporters of both the pro- and anti-Syria camps say they respect the views of their opponents, but the demonstrations also highlight the divisions between Shi'ites, Christians, and Druze that persist 15 years after the end of Lebanon's civil war.