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October 16, 2004

Lebanonwire

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New front boosts opposition to Syria in Lebanon

Every time Syria is criticized for its policy or its presence in Lebanon a great many voices are heard in support of Damascus but no one can tell exactly how many Lebanese oppose that policy. However, few people would dispute the fact that Lebanese opposition to Syria is growing. It includes the Christian rightwing opposition coalition of Qornet Shahwan, backed by Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Sfeir, the Democratic Gathering led by Druze warlord Walid Jumblat, the Lebanese Communist Party, and the newly founded Democratic Left Movement, a coalition of dissident communists and independent Lebanese leftists.

On the other hand, the main pro-Syrian forces in Lebanon include the Shiite Amal Movement of House Speaker Nabih Berri, the militant Shiite Hizbullah, Leftist, Arab Nationalist and Nasserite organizations. The DLM emerged after the Parliament amended the constitution in order to allow the extension of President Emile Lahoud's term in office for another three years. The amendment was at the behest of Syria, the main foreign power broker in Lebanon. Elias Attallah, one of the founders of the Democratic Left says that this is the first time since the 1975-1990 civil war that a political movement

enjoys such a wide representation and gains huge backing from the public. In a report published in the influential daily AN NAHAR on Sept. 30, Attallah said he believed "in a multi-party opposition whose members have met on rejecting the constitutional amendment for the sake of extending President Emile Lahoud's term."

The report added that the Democratic Left together with the Democratic Front of former MP Habib Sadek, the broad-based Qornet Shahwan opposition, the Democratic Renewal Movement of opposition MP Nassib Lahoud and the Democratic Gathering of Socialist Druze leader Walid Jumblat are working together to establish a unified "opposition front" to promote the campaign to protect the constitution and defend the republic.

Parliament's amendment of the constitution last month has spurred domestic and international opposition. One day ahead of the amendment the UN Security Council passed by 9-0 a resolution demanding Syria, without naming it, to pull out its estimated 15,000 troops from Lebanese territory and limit its interference in Lebanese politics, notably the presidency issue. Jumblat, a staunch opponent to the constitutional amendment, launched a campaign against Lahoud's extension and called on all the opposition in the country to unify and express its rejection to the amendment. As such an informal coalition of the above mentioned groups was formed.

Agreement and Disagreement

The report said the informal coalition agrees on certain points and disagrees on others. Members of the coalition agree on respecting the constitution and the country's democratic values and on rejecting the extension of Lahoud's mandate.

They call for carrying out honest elections according to a fair electoral law that is representative to all factions and for promoting the independence of the judiciary as well as for combating corruption and introducing administrative reforms.

The report said the coalition differs on two main issues: The Syrian presence in Lebanon and the deployment of the Lebanese army in the south along the border with Israel. While some believe the Syrian presence has a "strategic role" in Lebanon, others say the Syrian troops have for 27 years been the catalyst for Syria's "exaggerated interference" in the country's domestic affairs.

Regarding the role of the army in south Lebanon, the coalition agrees on the need to defend the role of the resistance movement mainly in liberating the remaining occupied Lebanese territory, the Shabaa Farms on the foothills of Mount Hermon. But while some opposition members back the option of sending the army to the south, others do not.

Eliminate Cause of Pressure

A report published in An Nahar on October 6 quoted a statement issued by the Democratic Left as saying that the movement called on the Lebanese authorities to eliminate the causes that led Lebanon and Syria to face internationalpressure by reconsidering the extension of Lahoud's mandate and engaging in serious and profound dialogue in line with the 1989 Taif Accord, which silenced the guns of the 1975-1990 civil war.

In a statement issued in late September, the Democratic Left Movement called for confronting attempts to place Lebanon under authoritarian rule and wipe out its democratic system. It also blasted "the illegal extension of the mandate of the political class" stressing the goals of the front are to introduce change into society and fight corruption.

The statement warned against attempts to keep on imposing a fait accompli because in this case the opposition will have no other choice than to expand the popular opposition. "The assassination attempt against MP (and ex-economy minister) Marwan Hamadeh embodies the troubling political situation in Lebanon," the statement said.

"Fifteen years have passed since the Taif Accord, four years since the liberation of the south and the situation is still the same. Lebanon remains a dominated country. Its institutions have been transformed into empty structures and have been replaced by the rule of intelligence agencies who are forcing the Lebanese to yield to its demand," the statement said.

"We are defending national unity, freedoms and the constitution. We are committed to a free, independent and democratic Arab state, compatible with the Arab world, and mainly with Syria, according to principles that serve both countries," the statement said.

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