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IN THE NEWS - Syria, Lebanon and the Killing of Rafik Hariri

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February 19, 2005

I'm Doug Johnson with In the News in VOA Special English.

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President Bush says the United States supports the international investigation that will take place to identify the killers of Rafik Hariri. The former prime minister of Lebanon died Monday in a powerful bomb explosion along a street in Beirut. At least fourteen other people were also killed.

Recently Mister Hariri had opposed the large part that Syria takes in Lebanese politics. He called for the withdrawal of Syrian troops. Syria has at least fourteen thousand troops in Lebanon. Syria borders Lebanon on the north and east.

Mister Hariri, a Sunni, was a very wealthy builder. He resigned as prime minister last October. He did so after Syria extended the term of the Lebanese president. But Mister Hariri had been expected to run in elections planned this May.

His family and the Lebanese political opposition link Syria to the car bombing. Syria denies any involvement. President Bashar al-Assad condemned the murders.

Lebanese President Emil Lahoud, a Christian allied with Syria, promised a full investigation. His government says it has asked for help from Swiss and other foreign experts.

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On Wednesday, an estimated two hundred thousand people attended the funeral for Mister Hariri. His family told President Lahoud and cabinet members not to attend. Protesters shouted "Syria out!" The Beirut newspaper An-Nahar called the funeral "a huge vote for unity and sovereignty."

On Friday Lebanese opposition leaders called for a peaceful "uprising for independence." And Lebanon's tourism minister resigned. He said the government was unable to solve what he called the "dangerous situation in the country."

On Thursday, President Bush said Syria must honor a United Nations Security Council resolution passed last year. Resolution fifteen-fifty-nine calls for foreign troops to leave Lebanon. Mister Bush described Syria as "out of step" with progress in the Middle East. Syria is not "moving with the democratic movement," in his words.

The United States recalled its ambassador to Syria, Margaret Scobey, after the killing of Mister Hariri.

His murder comes after years of relative calm in Lebanon. Civil war between Christians and Muslims began in nineteen seventy-five. An Arab force led by Syrian troops intervened in nineteen seventy-six in an effort to end the war. Later, Israel occupied southern Lebanon, staying until two thousand. The civil war was complex and lasted fifteen years.

Syria and Lebanon reached a cooperation agreement in nineteen ninety-one. Since the war, the Lebanese have kept a political balance by dividing leadership positions among different religious groups.

Rafik Hariri was popular for his efforts to rebuild Lebanon after the war. There are worries that violence could return now that he is gone.

In the News, in VOA Special English, was written by Jerilyn Watson. I'm Doug Johnson.

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