Aoun's return signals new split

Lebanon's most prominent anti-Syrian leader has said he has yet to hear from fellow opposition politicians, signalling deepening splits within the opposition that helped end Syria's 29-year military grip.

    Aoun says he has yet to hear from fellow opposition politicians

    A day after returning to Lebanon amid scenes of jubilation, Michel Aoun said his allies so far were the tens of thousands of youthful supporters who welcomed him home from a 14 year exile.

    "Until now I haven't heard...I assume silence after a certain period means rejection," Aoun told reporters on Sunday at his home just outside Beirut, where he received a stream of politicians.

    Aoun, arriving from Paris on a special Middle East Airlines flight with about 100 aides, waved to a small crowd as he emerged from the plane, accompanied by his wife, Nadia, and two aides, and flanked by bodyguards.

    Looking to the future

    "Today is a day of happiness and joy," he told a news conference.

    "I am coming to look to the future and to build Lebanon together" with the Lebanese, he had said. 

    Thousands of supporters, many waving Lebanon's red, white and green flag, crammed downtown Beirut's Martyrs' Square, cheering wildly as a giant TV screen showed Aoun returning, wearing a suit, descending a flight of stairs from the plane before receiving bouquets of flowers from well-wishers.

    Supporters have planned a welcome rally at the square later on Saturday.

    Aoun lost a war against the
    Syrians in 1989-1990

    Sitting in the airport's VIP lounge with two grandchildren on his lap and a smiling daughter, who kissed him on the head, Aoun's face showed no emotion but his eyes glittered as he waited for the news conference to begin.

    But he quickly snapped at journalists and supporters who mobbed the VIP lounge. "Please listen a bit," he told the crowd, then shouted: "Shut up."

    Issam Abu Jamra, a former army general exiled with him, sat on his right.

    Arrest warrant dropped

    Aoun, a one-time army commander and interim prime minister, lost a "war of liberation" against Syrian forces in 1989-90. He took refuge at Lebanon's French embassy and was sent into exile in France.

    An arrest warrant against him was dropped earlier in the week, clearing the way for his return.

    His return followed the 26 April completion of the Syrian troop withdrawal from Lebanon.

    Syria pulled out its forces under relentless international pressure that intensified after the 14 February assassination of former prime minister Rafiq al-Hariri.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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