(formerly IRIN News) Journalism from the heart of crises

“Freedom campers” protest perceived Syrian presence

In the wake of several high profile assassinations, hundreds of Lebanese young people camped out in downtown Beirut’s Martyrs’ Square on Monday to establish a self-styled “freedom camp.”

Participants, mostly in their teens and early 20s, called for the resignation of pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud and the removal of Syrian and pro-Syrian elements from the Lebanese security apparatus.

The demonstration follows close on the heels of the assassination of journalist and MP Gebran Tueini, an outspoken critic of Syrian policy in Lebanon, who was killed in a car bomb on 12 December.

The assassination follows the killing of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in February, as well as three subsequent attempts on the lives of anti-Syrian journalists, two of them fatal.

"We want President Lahoud to resign because we don't have faith in him," said 19-year old Maryam Laham, a member of the Future movement headed by Saad Hariri, son of the slain prime minister.

"We need someone who feels responsible for the youth of this country, someone who doesn’t take his instructions from Damascus."

Daniel Spiro, head of the Christian-oriented Lebanese Forces students' committee, said: "This peaceful and united protest will be held until our demands are met."

Along with the Lebanese Forces and the Future movement, the freedom camp was organised by the Progressive Socialist Party (PSP) of Druze MP Walid Jumblatt and the Democratic Leftist Movement, in addition to a number of civil society groups.

A similar campout was organised following the mass protests generated by the Hariri assassination, which many continue to blame on Syria.

In an initial report issued in October, a UN probe declared that the Hariri killing could not have been carried out without the knowledge of Syrian intelligence.

Damascus, however, has consistently denied its involvement.

"The assassinations didn’t stop after Hariri’s death, which means Syria isn’t completely out of the country,” said 30-year old PSP member Zeina Dakdouk. “That’s why we’re here."

Following protests in the wake of the Hariri assassination last spring, Syria withdrew its troops after a 27-year presence in Lebanon.

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