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As Syria exits Beirut, can a pro-Syrian president remain?

Lahoud under pressure as Syria finished the first phase of its pullout Thursday.

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Buoyed by Monday's massive anti-Syrian rally, which drew as many as 1 million flag-waving protesters, the Lebanese opposition has turned its attention squarely on Emile Lahoud, the pro-Syrian president of Lebanon.

As his Syrian backers leave Beirut in growing numbers, and he's unable to build a new government, the future for Mr. Lahoud looks increasingly shaky.

The opposition demands that Mr. Lahoud quit his office along with seven top security chiefs whom they blame for last month's murder of Rafik Hariri, a former prime minister.

Those calls are being supported by many independent political figures who say that only the departure of Lahoud and the security chiefs will spare this tiny Mediterranean nation from further political and economic turmoil.

"Whatever happens, the political impasse continues unless Lahoud resigns," says Chibli Mallat, a professor of international law at Beirut's St. Joseph University and a democracy campaigner. "We are working to widen the message that the people gave on Monday. We won the battle of sovereignty now we need to win the battle of democracy."

In an apparent response to the pressure, Brigadier General Jamil Sayyed, the powerful head of the General Security Directorate, and one of the seven security chiefs named by the opposition, announced Thursday that he and his colleagues would make themselves available for a judicial inquiry into Mr. Hariri's murder.

"All chiefs of the security organs are ready to stand trial because we don't have any secrets," General Sayyed told a news conference.

The political deadlock comes as a Lebanese Army officer confirmed Thursday that Syria has completed the first phase of a redeployment that will eventually see the withdrawal of all Syrian soldiers and military intelligence agents from Lebanon.

Syria first began redeploying its troops on March 8 after the Feb. 14 assassination of Hariri, whose death in a powerful explosion brought intense international pressure on Damascus to remove its 14,000 troops from Lebanon. It also sparked huge street demonstrations both for and against Syrian involvement.


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