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Lebanese Opposition To Meet With President

By Scott Wilson
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, March 3, 2005; Page A20

BEIRUT, March 2 -- Lebanese opposition leaders announced Wednesday that they would send a delegation to meet with President Emile Lahoud, who is trying to form a new government, but would use the opportunity to press their central demand that Syria withdraw its 15,000 troops and its intelligence agents from Lebanon.

Opposition leaders also reiterated their demand that Lahoud, whose term was extended last year by parliament under pressure from Syria, fire the heads of the Lebanese intelligence and security services.

Syrian President Bashar Assad will visit Saudi Arabia to discuss the investigation of the death of Lebanon's former prime minister. (Syrian Arab News Agency Via AP)

Many Lebanese blame those agencies for the Feb. 14 assassination of former prime minister Rafiq Hariri, whose death sparked a popular uprising that helped force the resignation on Monday of his successor, Omar Karami.

The decision signals the start of a political struggle between Lahoud and an opposition alliance of Christian, Sunni Muslim and Druze parties as the president selects a new prime minister. The next government will guide the country through elections, scheduled for spring, that the opposition hopes could give them a majority in parliament.

Syrian President Bashar Assad, meanwhile, prepared to visit Saudi Arabia after complaints from the ruling royal family over the investigation into Hariri's assassination. Hariri held Saudi as well as Lebanese citizenship and was a close friend of the Saudi royal family.

In recent days, Assad has given various responses to opposition demands that Syria leave Lebanon, a call supported again Wednesday by President Bush.

The Syrian president has told recent visitors that he would soon redeploy Syrian troops to the eastern Bekaa Valley, perhaps even withdrawing some from the country. But earlier this week he said he would not do so until a regional peace agreement could be arranged, a tacit reference to a settlement of the Arab-Israeli conflict.

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