PA” ,  A million demonstrators chanting

Later, thousands of red and white balloons were released above the teeming crowd, many of whom wore scarves in the same colours that have come to symbolise the country’s anti-Syrian movement. Brass bands playing patriotic and national folk songs and Lebanon’s national anthem were regularly drowned out by deafening chants from the crowd.

The assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri exactly one month ago sparked the series of protests against Syria, the dominant power in Lebanon.


The protest easily topped a pro-government rally of 500,000 people organised last week by the Shiite Muslim militant group Hezbollah. That show of strength forced the opposition to try to regain its momentum.

Syria’s military withdrawal continued today, with intelligence agents closing offices in two northern towns. About 50 intelligence agents in all departed for unknown destinations, although it was believed to be northern Syria.

Most intelligence offices, the widely resented arm through which Syria has controlled many aspects of Lebanese life, remained in northern and central Lebanon after Syrian troops moved east, closer to the Syrian border.

The opposition is demanding a full Syrian withdrawal, the resignations of Lebanese security chiefs and an international investigation into Hariri’s assassination.

Many were also particularly offended by pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud’s reinstatement last week of Prime Minister Omar Karami, who was forced to resign by a giant opposition protest. on February 28.

“They are challenging us, and we are here to show them that we will not accept,” said banker Farid Samaha as he joined the demonstration. “We are determined to liberate our country and we will not stop.”

A line of people in the square carried a 100-yard-long white-and-red Lebanese flag with the distinct green cedar tree in the middle, shaking it up and down and shouting, “Syria out.”

“Syria out, no half measures,” read a banner, borrowing from President Bush’s description of Damascus’ gradual withdrawal from this country of 3.5 million.

In addition to packing Martyrs Square, thousands of other protesters spilled into the nearby Riad Solh Square and outlying streets.

Lebanon’s political process is deadlocked, with the opposition refusing to join any government before their demands are met, and Karami insisting on a “national unity” government.

Some opposition members accuse Karami of stalling to kill the chances of holding an election they believe the pro-Syrian camp, which has a majority in parliament, will lose.

Karami is expected to begin consultations tomorrow on forming a Cabinet.