Syria must heed the voice of the Lebanese people

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After the "orange revolution" in the Ukraine, the "lemon" revolution in Kyrgyzstan and the anti-IRA protests in Belfast, comes the "cedar" revolution in Lebanon.

After the "orange revolution" in the Ukraine, the "lemon" revolution in Kyrgyzstan and the anti-IRA protests in Belfast, comes the "cedar" revolution in Lebanon.

The eruption of public anger at the assassination of the popular former prime minister, Rafik Hariri, a week ago and the consequent demands that the Syrians leave Lebanon can only be applauded. While politicians temporise and diplomats equivocate, the Lebanese people have taken the issue into their own hands to demonstrate day after day - just as did the citizens of Kiev and, before that, of Belgrade, Prague and Bucharest - that they want real change, not just promises and procrastination.

Having forced the resignation of the pro-Syrian government, and boosted by the belated encouragement of the US and the UK and the confusion of Damascus, the protesters have set their sites on two fundamental objectives: a commitment by the Syrians to withdraw their 14,000 troops, and the holding of free and fair elections for Parliament and, quite possibly, for the position of president as well.

Lebanon is not a country without experience of democracy. It has had a series of elections over the past dozen years, most of them flawed by corruption and outside pressure, but nonetheless helping develop political parties and political skills. At the same time, it is a country with a genuine memory of former independence and considerable economic progress in the years since the civil war.

What the country now needs - and what the outside world should help it to achieve - is a stable, peaceful progression to self-determination and full democracy. For so long the victim of outside meddling, it no more needs the West now using it to further its Middle East aims than the Syrians continuing to control it from next door. Parliamentary elections were in any case planned for May of this year. These need to be made free and open. That, plus an independent investigation into the circumstances of Hariri's assassination, are the first steps. The others are elections for the presidency and a firm date for the withdrawal of Syrian troops. It won't be easy but, after half a century of civil war, invasion and violence, Lebanon has a right to a better future.

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