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Lebanon Crowds Greet Ahmadinejad
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran arrived here Wednesday morning to an ecstatic welcome by supporters of Hezbollah, the militant Shiite movement that is backed by Iran. Thousands of cheering supporters thronged the road that leads from Beirut’s airport to the city, waving Iranian flags and chanting greetings in Farsi as Mr. Ahmadinejad’s convoy slowly passed.
The Iranian president’s first state visit here since he was elected in 2005 came at a time of rising tension in Lebanon. Hezbollah and its allies have been waging a campaign against the international tribunal investigating the 2005 assassination of the former prime minister, Rafiq Hariri, which is expected to indict several of the group’s members. Hezbollah and its allies have warned of disastrous consequences if that happens, and have pressured their political rivals to publicly disavow the tribunal.
American officials voiced their disapproval last week of Mr. Ahmadinejad’s visit, which underscores Tehran’s powerful role in Lebanon. After his arrival, Mr. Ahmadinejad appeared at a news conference with Lebanese President Michel Suleiman to announce a number of bilateral agreements on energy, trade and other issues. Iran, which has long provided arms and training to Hezbollah, has also offered to help equip the Lebanese Army, which has in recent years received support and training from the United States.
Mr. Ahmadinejad was to appear later on Wednesday at a rally organized by Hezbollah, and to visit Hezbollah’s stronghold in southern Lebanon on Thursday to highlight Iranian support for the group’s armed struggle with Israel.