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Lebanese protesters call for anti-Syria 'uprising'

Government says it welcomes inquiry into Hariri killing


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BEIRUT, Lebanon (CNN) -- Thousands of people took to the streets Friday in various parts of Lebanon as opposition leaders called for people around the world to support a peaceful "uprising" against Syrian armed forces in Lebanon and the pro-Syrian government.

Demonstrators -- marching three days after former prime minister Rafik Hariri and 16 others were killed in an explosion -- chanted "Syria out" and carried candles.

Peaceful opposition protests for democracy and freedom are rare in the Middle East.

The statement from opposition leaders asked for "all Lebanese expatriates to write to their governments and demonstrate in the countries that they are in, in support of our freedom and liberating us from this illegitimate government and, of course, for the Syrian pullout."

The statement also requested assistance from Arab countries and the United Nations in getting rid of "this illegitimate government."

The opposition, which includes members of numerous political and ethnic groups, has accused Syria of involvement in Hariri's assassination. The group called on Lebanon's pro-Syria government to resign and launched a three-day strike this week.

Waleed Jumblatt, who took over from Hariri as opposition leader, said Friday, "The first 15 minutes after Hariri was assassinated and while he was burning on the ground, the government distributed a wanted list that was kept hidden because they tried to fabricate the identity of the killers."

Syrian and Lebanese officials have denied their governments had any involvement in the killing.

"The government can take the moral and political responsibility since there were holes in the security system that led to the assassination, but there is no way -- and I repeat no way -- that anyone can accuse us of personal responsibility and being involved in such a crime," Lebanese Interior minister Suleiman Franjieh said. "That is sickening. I challenge everyone who dares to say such a thing."

He added, "We had special personal relations with prime minister Hariri. The opposition only had materialistic interests. They wanted money from Hariri, that is all they cared about."

Hariri, 60, was a popular politician and construction industry billionaire. He resigned as prime minister in October when the parliament decided to extend pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud's term for three years.

Omar Karami, a Syrian supporter, replaced Hariri as prime minister.

People burned pictures of Karami on Friday in his hometown of Tripoli, northern Lebanon.

On state television, Karami complained the opposition was attempting a "coup d'etat" and that people were using Hariri's assassination "for their own agendas."

Asked what the government was willing to give the opposition, he said, "Nothing. We are trying to have a national dialogue but they are the ones who are saying no.

"How can Lebanon have peace if Syria leaves? Syria was here before the war, during the war and after. We are in a democratic system. The parliament will decide based on votes whether the majority wants Syria out before elections or after."

He said Syria is "ready for this investigation. We gave the names of the investigators to Hariri's family. We want to help. We are asking anyone to help us with any leads."

The Lebanese government opposes a foreign-led investigation but has requested international investigators to assist. Swiss DNA and explosives experts will help in the investigation.

Karami said the protesters "cussed us and cursed us with all kind of bad words, but still we let them demonstrate."

The opposition statement said the government must realize Hariri's death "targeted the whole nation."

Lebanese Tourism Minister Farid al-Khazen resigned Friday, saying on state television, "The current government is not capable of resolving the dangerous situations in the country."

He added that he took such a decision based on his "beliefs and national responsibilities."

Jumblatt wrote off rumors that some opposition representatives in parliament may resign in protest. He told the media, "We were legally elected by the people, and we will go to the parliament and continue the struggle, and we will face the government."

CNN's Brent Sadler, Ben Wedeman and Saad Abedine contributed to this report.


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