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Still more pressure was heaped on Syria for an immediate withdrawal from Lebanon, as leaders of Russia and Germany joined in calling for compliance with a UN resolution on the matter. Russia's position is seen as especially significant since its ambassador to the UN abstained last September when the resolution came to a vote in the Security Council. President Bush demanded a pullout Wednesday of Syrian occupation troops, accompanied by the secret agents who dominate Lebanon's intelligence apparatus. Leading Arab diplomats also were working behind the scenes to impress on the Damascus government the urgency of the situation. Against that backdrop, Syrian President Bashar Assad flew to Saudi Arabia Thursday for closed-door meetings on strategy with that nation's top officials. Syria has said a withdrawal must be contingent on new peace negotiations with Israel. Even so, it hopes to keep "early monitoring stations" in Lebanon, diplomatic sources said.

In Lebanon's capital, organizations loyal to Syria ignored the wishes of their opponents and called for a new government of national unity. A statement said that would be the "shortest and most effective" way out of the political crisis caused by the resignation of Prime Minister Omar Karami's government earlier this week. The opposition has said it won't join any discussions on a new government that include candidates in the general election set for May.

Confusion prevailed in Hong Kong over the reported resignation of deeply unpopular Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa after neither he nor the Chinese government would confirm that he is leaving his post. News outlets speculated that an official announcement might not come until late next week. That could allow time for a face-saving appointment for Tung to a board that advises China's National People's Congress. Meanwhile, democracy activists in Hong Kong worried that China's rulers could seize the opportunity to install a new chief executive for a full five-year term, dashing hopes for democratic reform until at least 2010.

The outcome of a crucial campaign to rescue Argentina from its massive $103 billion foreign debt was to be announced as the Monitor went to press. President Nestor Kirchner was expected to say that creditors had agreed to accept new government bonds covering as much as 80 percent of the debt. Those participating would get about a 30 percent return on their investments; those refusing would get nothing. More than half a million investors hold Argentine bonds. The government defaulted on its debt three years ago at the depth of a recession that put more than half the population below the poverty line.


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