BEIRUT (AFP) – The entourage of Lebanon’s under-fire President Emile Lahoud has hit back at moves in parliament to oust him, accusing former colonial power France of being behind the "coup" plot.

A source close to Lahoud charged late Saturday that French President Jacques Chirac had set up a working group under his chairmanship charged with working with anti-Syrian forces in Lebanon "to provoke a coup d’etat against the constitution and the (1989) Taef accords" that ended the 1975-90 civil war.

"I deplore the French president’s determination to meddle personally in Lebanese affairs," the source told AFP.Anti-Damascus politicians, who have held a majority in parliament since Lebanon last year held its first elections in three decades free of Syrian troops, on Thursday launched a petition in the legislature calling for Lahoud to step down by March 14.

Lahoud has been under severe pressure ever since Lebanese security officials close to him were arrested over last year’s murder of five-time prime minister Rafiq Hariri and a UN probe accused his Syrian allies of being implicated in the killing.

The president’s critics reject as illegitimate a three-year extension to his mandate pushed through in 2004 when Syrian troops and intelligence agents remained deployed in Lebanon.

But Lahoud has repeatedly vowed to serve his full term.

France had already angered the president’s supporters by co-sponsoring with the United States a series of Security Council resolutions critical of  Syria and its Lebanese allies.