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Lebanese opposition says it wants Syria out at rare meeting (AFP-FRANCE PRESSE) BEIRUT, Lebanon 02/01/05 3:45 PM ET)Source: http://story.news.yahoo.com/news?tmpl=story&cid=1515&ncid=1515&e=6&u=/afp/20050201/wl_mideast_afp/lebanonsyria_050201204516 AFP} Agence France Presse AFP} Agence France Presse Articles-Index-TopPublishers-Index-Top
BEIRUT (AFP) - Lebanon´s opposition laid out its demands for the future of relations with Syria during a highly unusual meeting with an envoy from Damascus.

The opposition figures told Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Walid Muwallem, whose country dominates Lebanon, they wanted to see a dramatic and swift reduction of Damascus´ influence over the country and a withdrawal of its troops.

"The solution is for Syria to lift its control of Lebanon, which must now recover its sovereignty and independence," said opposition deputy Nassib Lahoud after a meeting with Muawllem.

"This is the central objective. Any other way will prolong the crisis," said Lahoud. "There must be a complete Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon within a short timescale," he added

Muwallem´s meetings with anti-Syrian figures during his two-day visit mark a new departure for Damascus and come amid increasing pressure on Syria from the United States to reduce its presence in the country.

The United Nations Security Council in September passed a resolution demanding that the Lebanese government exercise its sovereignty throughout its territory and disarm militia groups, including Hezbollah, as well send home foreign troops.

After a series of partial withdrawals, some 14,000 Syrian troops are still deployed in Lebanon, but this is less than half the number stationed in the country since 1976.

Lahoud said the opposition wanted Damascus to dismantle its joint security services in Lebanon before spring elections and treat the country as an "independent state".

After the elections, a Lebanese government of national unity should set out a timetable for Syria´s complete withdrawal from Lebanon, he said.

Muwallem, a respected diplomat who was Syrian ambassador to Washington, has spoken of the need for an "evolution" in relations and acknowledged "erroneous practices" between the two countries. (Copyright © 2005 Agence France Presse. 02/01/05)

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