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Lebanon protesters vow to defy ban

Demonstrations planned to oppose presence of Syrian troops

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Demonstrations planned in Beirut. CNN's Brent Sadler reports.
United States

BEIRUT, Lebanon (CNN) -- Lebanon's interior ministry has ordered troops to "use all necessary means" to prevent demonstrations Monday against Syria's military deployment, but protesters vowed to hold them anyway.

The demonstrations are to center on whether Syria played a role in the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in the capital on February 14.

Since then, thousands of demonstrators have peacefully protested Syria's military presence in Lebanon.

Monday's demonstrations were expected to be massive: Lebanon's pro-Syria government faces a possible vote of no confidence Monday. In advance of that parliamentary action, tens of thousands of Lebanese were hoping to take to the streets.

Syrian Cabinet Minister Bouthaina Shaaban denied Sunday that Syria was involved in the blast that killed Hariri, despite the U.S. State Department's contention that Syria is a state sponsor of terrorism and that Islamic fundamentalist groups Islamic Jihad, Hamas and Hezbollah operate with Syrian support.

"Syria has never carried out a terrorist attack against anyone," Shaaban told CNN's "Late Edition."

Asked whether Syria is prepared to withdraw its forces from Lebanon, Shaaban said, "Syria has been redeploying its forces from Lebanon long before anybody in the international community asked Syria to do that."

Asked when that "redeployment" might be finalized, she said only that the two countries have "a schedule for the forces to withdraw," but did not say what that schedule stipulated.

Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pennsylvania, said he was not impressed by the Syrian minister's comments.

"I thought those responses were weak," Specter told CNN. "When she talks about redeployment, it's an excuse for 'no withdrawal.' We know that Syria has housed the terrorists in Damascus for decades."

He added, "I think Syria is in deep trouble, unless they make big changes, and right away."

Specter said the country could face "more sanctions" under the Syrian Accountability Act.

A U.N. team set up to investigate the assassination of Hariri is at work in Beirut.

Syria keeps thousands of troops in Lebanon, left over from their larger deployment after the civil war, from 1975-1990.

President Bush said this month that Syria is "out of step" with other nations in the Middle East and said the United States will work with other countries to pressure Damascus to remove its troops from Lebanon.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State William Burns met this month with Lebanese Foreign Minister Mahmoud Hammoud, demanding that Syria immediately comply with U.N. Resolution 1559, calling for withdrawal of some 13,000 Syrian troops stationed in Lebanon.

Shaaban also dismissed a report that Syria and Iran -- which the United States accuses of harboring a nuclear weapons program -- have created a common front against the United States.

Shaaban said the story stemmed from Syria's prime minister, who said in Arabic that "cooperation that existed between Syria and Iran for years and will continue to exist."

But that comment was translated poorly into English, said Shaaban, who added that she worked for 10 years as an interpreter and "laughed" when she heard the translation.

"He was not speaking about a military pact," she said.

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