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Lebanese Opposition Urges Peaceful Uprising

The Lebanese opposition stepped up its campaign against the pro-Syrian government Friday, calling for a peaceful uprising to force the resignation of Prime Minister Omar Karami (search) and the withdrawal of Syrian troops.

Interior Minister Suleiman Franjieh, however, warned the government would not tolerate public disturbances. "The state will not stand idly by," he said.

In the first high-level political fallout after Monday's assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri (search), Tourism Minister Farid Khazen resigned, saying the government was incapable of running the country.

The departure of Khazen, who was close to pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud (search), was a surprise but not expected to lead to a government collapse. Karami quickly appointed Wadih Khazen as the new minister. The two men are not related.

The anti-Syrian opposition, which has blamed the government and its Syrian backers for Hariri's assassination, called on Lebanese to stage a peaceful "independence uprising."

In a statement, Lahoud vowed that the government would "uncover the circumstances of the ugly crime." The United States and France have called for an international inquiry. Karami's government has rejected that but commissioned foreign experts, including Swiss forensic scientists, to assist in the probe.

Later Friday, the United Nations announced that at the request of the Security Council it was sending a team led by Ireland's deputy police commissioner Peter Fitzgerald to Beirut in the next few days to investigate the assassination.

"The team will make contact with Lebanese officials and others to gather such information as necessary for the secretary-general to the council in a timely manner," a U.N. statement said.

The Security Council on Tuesday expressed grave concern at the possible impact of Hariri's assassination on the ongoing efforts of the Lebanese people to solidify democracy and stressed that the "terrorist act" must not jeopardize upcoming parliamentary elections.

Meanwhile, the Lebanese opposition, in a statement read to reporters by Samir Franjieh, urged residents to continue gathering daily at Hariri's gravesite in Beirut's Martyrs' Square to light candles and pray near the mosque there that Hariri built.

The government should resign and a transitional Cabinet should be formed "to protect the people, and to ensure an immediate and full withdrawal of the Syrian army from Lebanon as a prelude for free and fair elections," said Franjieh, a second cousin of the interior minister.

The Lebanese and Syrian governments have denied any role in Hariri's death in a massive bomb explosion as he was driven through central Beirut. The blast killed 16 others and wounded more than 100.

The grave of Hariri, a self-made billionaire businessman credited with rebuilding Lebanon after the 1975-90 civil war, has become a pilgrimage destination.

Thousands of people signed a 30-yard long banner with the word "Resign," written in French and Arabic, addressed to the government.

Lebanon's business sector reopened Friday after three days of national mourning. The Lebanese pound was steady at around 1,500 to the U.S. dollar despite fears that Hariri's death would harm the local currency.

Early Friday, Lahoud made a condolence visit to his slain rival's home. Television showed Lahoud talking with two of Hariri's sons. The president had stayed away from Wednesday's funeral at the Hariri family's insistence.

In Damascus on Friday, Syrian President Bashar Assad replaced the chief of military intelligence, who commands Syrian agents in Lebanon, with his brother-in-law. Syria has 15,000 soldiers in Lebanon, and is under increasing U.S. and United Nations pressure to withdraw.