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Pro-Syria rally set for Beirut


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Syria and Lebanon announce the pullback of Syrian troops.

Lebanese troops circle Syrian intelligence headquarters.

The complex relationship between Lebanon and Syria.
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BEIRUT, Lebanon (CNN) -- Tens of thousands of pro-Syrian protesters are expected to crowd central Beirut one day after Damascus began pulling troops back to eastern Lebanon.

Tuesday's protest, seen as a counterpoint to anti-Damascus rallies in recent weeks, comes after the leaders of Lebanon and Syria agreed that Syrian troops will leave the country in stages.

The protest was called for by the Lebanon-based Shiite Muslim militant group Hezbollah, which has support in Syria.

On Monday, Syrian President Bashar Assad and Lebanese President Emile Lahoud committed to the first stage of withdrawal and made plans for the second, under which Syria says it will move all 14,000 of its troops in Lebanon back into Syrian territory.

They agreed Syrian troops will pull back to Lebanon's eastern Bekaa Valley by the end of March.

Syrian officials told CNN they are following U.N. Resolution 1559 as well as the Taif Accord, signed in 1989, which legitimized Syria's presence in Lebanon at the end of a bitter civil war there but called for a later withdrawal.

The leaders did not say when the pullback would begin nor how many troops would be involved.

After Monday's announcement, Syrian Ambassador to the United States Imad Moustapha said the pullback to the Bekaa Valley will happen "in less than two or three weeks," and "all of our troops" will then be moved "into Syria itself."

Asked whether that will include Syrian intelligence personnel , he nodded his head and said, "Everybody. Everybody."

By late Monday, some troops had already begun to move to the Bekaa Valley, traveling along a highway lined with Lebanese troops.

There have been daily protests in Lebanon, with tens of thousands of people calling for the ouster of Syrian forces following the assassination three weeks ago of opposition leader and former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

Many Lebanese blame Syria for the bombing that killed Hariri and 16 others.

While the pro-Syrian Lebanese government denied having any involvement, it resigned amid the pressure.

Opposition leaders have demanded full and immediate withdrawal. And the White House -- which has been leading an international effort to push Syria out of Lebanon -- called Monday's agreement "a half measure that does not go far enough."

But at an anti-Syrian rally in Beirut, one participant called the agreement "the beginning of the independence of Lebanon."

Even as Washington shows its displeasure and anti-Syrian protesters are set to protest for another day, Syrian supporters are planning a massive demonstration.

Tuesday's rally, called for by Hezbollah, will largely focus on condemnation of Israel.

Many Arabs see Hezbollah as heroic for helping drive Israeli forces from Lebanon.

Israel pulled its troops from southern Lebanon in 2000.

Hezbollah has carried out numerous terrorist attacks against civilians and is listed by the United States and Israel as a terrorist organization. It remains an official party in Lebanon.

U.S. officials have called on both Lebanon and Syria to halt support for Hezbollah.

In addition to calling for the ouster of foreign forces from Lebanon, U.N. Resolution 1559 also called for "the disbanding and disarmament of all Lebanese and non-Lebanese militias" -- which includes Hezbollah.

The resolution said the Security Council is "gravely concerned at the continued presence of armed militias in Lebanon, which prevent the Lebanese government from exercising its full sovereignty over all Lebanese territory."

CNN Beirut Bureau Chief Brent Sadler contributed to this report.


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