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Aoun opts for peace, dialogue with Syria (UPI) VIA-WASHINGTON TIMES) By Claude Salhani - Washington, DC 05/09/05)Source: http://www.washingtontimes.com/upi-breaking/20050509-093550-1067r.htm UPI} UNITED PRESS INTERNATIONAL UPI} UNITED PRESS INTERNATIONAL Articles-Index-TopPublishers-Index-Top
Washington, DC, May. 9 (UPI) -- Gen. Michel Aoun, a Maronite Christian whom some Lebanese regard as a renegade, others as a savior and who sees himself as the next president of Lebanon, returned to a hero´s welcome Saturday after a 15-year exile in France.

Shortly after his arrival in Beirut, Aoun spoke with United Press International by cellular telephone. He discussed some of his plans for the future of the country.

"Democracy comes first," Aoun told United Press International. The former general and one-time prime minister explained that before Lebanon could become fully democratic, it would have to abandon its corrupt "old ways."

"Changes are important if Lebanon is to change for the better," said Aoun to UPI. "The Lebanese must change their ways; they must move away from the bad old habits."

Aoun said he would focus his energy on building a "new Lebanon."

"Lebanon´s archaic, feudal and religious fanaticism as well as rampant corruption that in the past has destroyed the people must be done away with," Aoun said.

Addressing reports that he intends to run for the presidency, the former Lebanese army general said: "One must not aim for a specific post, or position. One must plan for a new society."

Aoun, who many blame for some of the worst fighting and violence of the Lebanese civil war, said he held great love for the Lebanese people. "I felt very emotional upon my return."

A crowd of some 400,000 people, according to Aoun supporters, greeted him Saturday in Freedom Square, previously Martyr´s Square and the site where monster anti-Syrian demonstrations were held after the Feb. 14 killing of former prime minister Rafik Hariri.

Aoun, who was ousted by the Syrians in 1990, lobbied Washington for support in his quest to have Damascus remove its forces from Lebanon. He played a primary role in convincing the Bush administration to pass the Syria Accountability and Lebanese Sovereignty Act of 2003, meant to impose economic sanctions on Damascus.

His actions brought accusations from the Lebanese pro-Syrian government of trying to foment discord between the two countries and of trying to incite religious discord.

"I have harmed no one. I have good intentions," Aoun told UPI. He indicated he wished peace with Syria.

"There is much Syria and Lebanon can profit from each other," he told UPI.

Aoun said now that Syria has quit Lebanon, his problems with Damascus are over.

"I have already pardoned those who fought me," Aoun told UPI.

The general said however, that his former enemies will not be recompensed unless they prove themselves.

"If they, those who opposed us, want to work with us in rebuilding the country, I am ready to work with them. I have good intentions for Lebanon," he told UPI.

"Peace cannot be waged by one side alone," Aoun said. "War can be waged by one side, but not peace. I hope Syria opts for peace." (Copyright 2005 United Press International 05/09/05)

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