BEIRUT, Lebanon (AP) — Tens of thousands marched yesterday in the biggest anti-Syrian protest in Lebanese history amid signals that Syria will soon withdraw its troops from parts of the country. President Bush renewed demands for Syrian forces to leave Lebanon immediately.

The protest marked one week since the Feb. 14 death of Rafik Hariri and began at the bomb-scarred site of the former prime minister’s assassination, which turned many Lebanese against Syria and increased international pressure on Damascus to extract its army from Lebanon.

Holding aloft red roses and Lebanese flags, the throngs on the streets shouted insults at Syria and demanded the resignation of the pro-Syrian government in a march that began at the seaside site where Hariri and 16 others were killed and ended at his grave in the city center.

The protesters wore scarves of red and white — the colors of Lebanon’s flag — which have become the symbol of the opposition’s “independence uprising,” described as a peaceful campaign to dislodge the government and force the Syrian army out of Lebanon.

Hariri’s assassination has brought Lebanese together and strengthened the opposition, but it was unclear if the momentum would force a change in government or push the Syrian army out of the country.

Another former prime minister Gen. Michel Aoun, said Monday he would return from exile before this year’s parliamentary elections and that he may launch his own candidacy if the opposition needs his support. The former commander of the Lebanese army fled the country in 1990.

“I will return before the legislative elections, probably by mid-April,” Aoun told The Associated Press in a telephone interview from Paris. “And if the situation is critical for the opposition in a region, then I will throw in my personal weight and run in the elections.”

 

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