Lebanon - Politics - 2004-8
A September 2004 vote by the Chamber of Deputies to amend the constitution to extend President Lahoud's term in office by 3 years amplified the question of Lebanese sovereignty and the continuing Syrian presence. The vote was clearly taken under Syrian pressure, exercised in part through Syria's military intelligence service, whose chief in Lebanon had acted as a virtual proconsul for many years. Emile Lahoud, who was granted another term by the Lebanese parliment in September 2004 under great pressure from Syria. Though Lahoud was President and exercised considerable influence due to the backing of Syria, he was not the official commander-in-chief of the Lebanese Armed Forces. The UN Security Council expressed its concern over the situation by passing Resolution 1559, also in September 2004, which called for withdrawal of all remaining foreign forces from Lebanon, disbanding and disarmament of all Lebanese and non-Lebanese militias, the deployment of the Lebanese Armed Forces throughout the country, and a free and fair electoral process in the presidential election.
Former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri and 19 others were assassinated in Beirut by a car bomb on February 14, 2005. The assassination spurred massive protests in Beirut and international pressure that led to the withdrawal of the remaining Syrian military troops from Lebanon on April 26. Lebanon's remarkable Cedar Revolution led to the withdrawal of Syrian occupation troops, the most significant step toward true Lebanese independence and sovereignty since the outbreak of civil war in 1975. The Cedar Revolution reached a dramatic crescendo on March 14, 2005, when one million Lebanese demonstrated in Beirut's Martyrs Square demanding freedom and independence and an end to the Syrian occupation. True Lebanese independence and sovereignty was not fully achieved even after the Syrian troop withdrawal for many reasons, including especially the apparent ongoing presence of Syrian security personnel in Lebanon, an ongoing assassination campaign against Lebanese public figures who oppose appeasement of Syria, and Hizballah's control and militarization of southern Lebanon.
In the months that followed Hariri's assassination, journalist Samir Qassir and Lebanese politician George Hawi were both murdered by car bombs, and most recently, Defense Minister Elias Murr narrowly avoided a similar fate when a car bomb exploded near his convoy. The UN International Independent Investigative Commission (UNIIIC) headed by Detlev Mehlis iinvestigated Hariri's assassination and reported its findings to the Security Council.
Parliamentary elections were held May 29-June 19, 2005 and the anti-Syrian opposition led by Sa'ad Hariri, Rafiq Hariri's son, won a majority of 72 seats (out of 128). Hariri ally and former Finance Minister Fouad Siniora was named Prime Minister and Nabih Berri was reelected as Speaker of Parliament. Parliament approved the first "made-in-Lebanon" cabinet in almost 30 years on July 30. The new cabinet's ministerial statement, a summary of the new government's agenda and priorities, focuses on political and economic reform.
Lebanon was embroiled in a political crisis since early 2006, triggered by disagreements over the establishment of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, which is intended to seek justice for the killing of the former Lebanese Prime Minister, Rafik Hariri. This political crisis was further exacerbated by the outbreak of a major conflict between Hizballah and Israel in July and August 2006. The situation further deteriorated in November, when six Ministers from the Hizballah-led opposition resigned from the Cabinet, over plans to set up the Tribunal. Lebanon's political deadlock came to a head in 2007 when Lebanese politicians were unable to agree on a successor to President Emile Lahoud. The Parliament remained closed during that time and hundreds of opposition demonstrators camped out in central Beirut until May 2008. Tensions were further increased by assassination of the Hizballah's second in command, Imad Mugniyah, in a car bomb in Damascus on 12 February 2008. Mugniyah had been one of the most wanted terrorist for over twenty years, for his suspected involvement in a number of terrorist attacks during the 1980s. Hizballah immediately accused Israel of having conducted the assassination and are ostensibly committed to revenge. Hizballah's takeover of west Beirut in May 2008 and resulting outbreak of violence led Lebanese leaders, with Arab League mediation, to draft the Doha Agreement.
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