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Lebanon: Negotiations Between Allies of Syria and the Opposition Stalled

In Lebanon, negotiations between allies of Syria and the opposition seeking to form a new government have stalled. Among the sticking points is the demand for an internationally supervised inquiry into the death of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. The opposition believes Syria was behind his death. The stalled negotiations raise the possibility that new elections scheduled for this spring will have to be postponed. But opposition groups who have put up a tent city reminiscent of Ukraine's recent democratic movement vow to fight-on.

They come by the hundreds, living in tents just a stone's throw from Rafik Hariri's grave. They have gathered around a statue symbolizing those who lost their lives fighting for Lebanese Independence from Ottoman rule. Like their predecessors, they too seek a free and independent Lebanon, the cause that cost Mr. Hariri and his companions their lives just over one month ago.

Nayla Moawad is a former first lady of Lebanon. Her husband, President Rene Mouwad, was assassinated in 1989. She is a member of a Christian opposition party.

"I think that this tent city is the real link ever since former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri was assassinated with his companions until now. And they have kept the flame. And it was started by a small organization organizing one tent because people were there and couldn't drink water or eat or anything. And now there are above 62 or 65 tents," says Nayla Moawad.

Every evening people stroll through the camp stopping to take part in free and open political debates -- something new in Lebanon. Half of the tents are occupied by a dozen or more political parties that 15 years ago were fighting each other in the civil war that tore the country apart. Now they stand united in a democratic front with an agenda concerning the current crisis.

Asma Andraos is with the non-partisan Lebanese Civil Society that is helping run the camp.

"The objective of the camp is one: the truth around who murdered Rafik Hariri. We have been through this in the past and we have never known who murdered the people who were murdered. And this time I think not only us, but the Lebanese population as a whole, think that it is high time that we actually find out who did what and why," says Asma Andraos.

They are also calling for the complete withdrawal of Syrian intelligence services from Lebanese territory, and the resignation of current President Emile Lahoud along with all his ministers.

"At the end of the day, any government representative is there to represent its people. If the people no longer feel represented then the government officials have to leave. And what it takes is clean, independent elections under the supervision of an independent body, new people in government. New people in parliament. And, a new history to start," says Asma Andraos.

There are more than a dozen religious groups in the country and no census has been conducted since 1957 because of fear of sectarian violence. Shi'ites are believed to make up a plurality of the population. But opposition member are quick to point to last week's rally in Beirut as evidence of their support.

"Let me tell you something... until, a week ago I never thought that one million persons would come and be there. I think that there is a process that has started. Sooner or later they will have to hear our voices," says Nayla Moawad.

The voices are coming from far and wide. 22-year-old George Eid was born and raised in Lebanon. He now works in the United Arab Emirates. Like many others in the camp, when he saw what was taking place at home, he had to come and be a part of it.

"I intend to stay here so the truth will appear. And, we know who was the criminal, who killed our president. Everybody, see all the people here, they will stay here until the criminal will appear. Nobody can tell us to stop or to take the tents or to stay at home, nobody,” says Mr. Eid.