|VOICE OF AMERICA|
SLUG: 2-323090 Lebanon/Syria (L)
TITLE=LEBANON / SYRIA (L)
HEADLINE: Hundreds of Thousands Rally for Syria in Beirut
INTRO: Hundreds of thousands of protesters jammed a main square in Beirut to express support for Syrian troops in Lebanon, and to denounce the United States and Israel. VOA's Michael Drudge has more from the Lebanese capital.
TEXT: /// SFX OF CHANTS, EST. AND FADE UNDER ///
"We are not oppressed people," the demonstrators chanted. "We are not under occupation."
They were expressing solidarity with Syria, which has been under intense international pressure, led by the United States, to immediately and completely pull its 14-thousand troops out of Lebanon.
Syria has begun troop redeployment to Lebanon's eastern Bekaa Valley, but Washington calls the move a "half-measure."
The Beirut rally was organized by Hezbollah, an Iranian and Syrian-backed Shi'ite Muslim militant group considered a terrorist organization by the United States.
To fulfill a U.N. Security Council resolution demanding that Syria leave Lebanon, Hezbollah also would have to dismantle its militia.
Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah used his speech to denounce President Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
/// NASRALLAH ARABIC ACT AND FADE UNDER ///
Among the crowd there was not only strong support for Syria, but anger towards Israel and the United States.
/// VOX POP ACTS ///
(MAN): "We all, as Lebanese, (are) 100-percent with the Syrians. (It is) not intervention because we have very good relations. I mean we believe that we are one people, we live in two separate countries."
(1ST WOMAN): "We hate the U.S. We hate Israel. Because they interfere in our nation al issues. They should interfere in their issues. Leave us alone."
(2ND WOMAN): "Syria supported our resistance, they are people who saved this land. We do not just want to throw them out of our country. Let them stay. It is okay."
/// END ACTS ///
The huge rally dwarfed the size of anti-Syrian protests that began following the February 14th assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Syria has denied involvement in the killing, but many Lebanese call for Damascus to remove its troops and spies.
Supporters of both the pro- and anti-Syria camps say they respect the views of their opponents, but the demonstrations also highlight the divisions between Shi'ites, Christians, and Druze that persist 15 years after the end of Lebanon's civil war. (SIGNED)
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