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Huge Anti-Syria Rally Jams Beirut

A huge mass of protesters jammed Martyrs Square in downtown Beirut to press their demands for an independent, international investigation into the Hariri assassination, and for Syria to stop meddling in Lebanon's affairs.

Former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri was killed February 14 in a massive explosion that is still reverberating through Lebanon's politics, and its relations with Syria.

Syria denies involvement in the Hariri assassination, but many Lebanese blame Damascus. Since the killing, Syria has begun redeploying its troops in Lebanon, with about 4,000 reportedly returning to Syria and about 10,000 on the move to Lebanon's eastern Bekaa Valley. The move is in response to the public protests, and U.S.-led international pressure.

Many protesters told VOA they will keep demonstrating until Syrian troops and spies are completely out of Lebanon.

First woman: "We want to show to all the world that we are united, and we want our freedom. Enough, please!"
Second woman: "I am here today for the truth and to save my children later one because we have already paid to much. I do not want my children to pay anymore. We want our freedom, that is what we want."
Reporter: "Do you believe Syria will be leaving?"
Third woman: "Yes, if America tells them to go out they will have to go out. And we are to tell them that they are going to be out."

This is the biggest anti-Syria rally since Mr. Hariri's death. Last Tuesday, the Hezbollah militant group mobilized about half-a-million people for a pro-Syria demonstration in Beirut.

The Syrian-backed president of Lebanon, Emile Lahoud, has appealed for an end to the protests, expressing fear that the same people who killed Mr. Hariri could provoke an incident and inflame violent passions.

Despite the president's words of caution, both pro- and anti-Syria factions have said they want a peaceful resolution to their differences, and they say they respect each others right to demonstrate.

Monday's rally came amid political gridlock in Lebanon over the reappointment of Prime Minister Omar Karami, a Lahoud protégé who had handed in his resignation two weeks after the Hariri assassination.

Opposition leaders are boycotting Mr. Karami's call for a government of national unity in a dispute that clouds the outlook for parliamentary elections planned for May.