Witnesses said on Wednesday that a bulldozer demolished two guard posts, trucks loaded with office equipment drove away and the last intelligence officers left the headquarters in the seafront Ramlat al-Baida district in Beirut.

Workers took down portraits of Syrian President Bashar al-Asad and his late father, Hafidh al-Asad, from around the building before driving away.

 

In the northern city of Tripoli, men were loading trucks outside the two main offices of Syrian intelligence.

A Lebanese security source said he expected all Syrian intelligence agents in Beirut, the north and the Mount Lebanon area overlooking the capital, to have moved to eastern Lebanon by Wednesday night. He put their number at 150 to 200.

For now, Syrian intelligence retains its Lebanon headquarters in the Bekaa Valley town of Anjar, but the closure of the Beirut office indicated that Syrian forces have almost completed the first phase of a withdrawal from Lebanon announced 10 days ago.

Protests

The retreat of Syrian intelligence, the arm through which Damascus controlled many aspects of Lebanese life, followed demands from the United States and an anti-Syrian rally on Monday that drew an estimated 1 million people, the
biggest crowd ever seen in central Beirut.

No details were revealed on the
Mubarak (L) and al-Asad meeting

Several thousand pro-Syrian demonstrators, shouting anti-US slogans also took to the streets in a march towards the American embassy on Tuesday, denouncing US interference in Lebanon

 

"Leave us alone. We do not want your false democracy,"
said Subhi Yaghi, a student speaker in the march.

Lebanese police, troops and coils of barbed wire stopped the march less than a kilometre from the fortified embassy compound in the northeastern suburb of Aukara. The protest was organised by pro-government student groups.

The dismantling of the intelligence headquarters in Lebanon also coincided with a visit to Damascus by Egyptian President Husni Mubarak and efforts by Lebanon's pro-Syrian Prime Minister-designate Umar Karami to form a unity government to defuse the political crisis.

Mubarak held talks with al-Asad on Tuesday before flying back to Egypt. 

Opposition lawmakers have told Karami they will not join a cabinet until all Syrian troops have left Lebanon, Syrian-allied security chiefs have been dismissed, and an international inquiry has been appointed into the 14 February assassination of former prime minister Rafiq al-Hariri.