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Presidential vote delayed until Dec. 11

Latest update : 2008-02-14

The parliamentary vote for a new Lebanese president has been postponed for the seventh time.

BEIRUT, Dec 7 (Reuters) - Lebanon's presidential election
was postponed again on Friday, despite rival leaders' agreement
in principle to give the post to army chief Michel Suleiman in a
step that would ease the country's deep political crisis.
 
Lawmakers gathered at the tightly guarded parliament in
downtown Beirut for a 1 p.m. (1100 GMT) session, only for it to
be called off until noon (1000 GMT) on Tuesday, the seventh
delay since the first attempt to hold the vote on Sept. 25.
 
Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, a leading member of the
opposition, announced the delay in a statement read on his
behalf after holding talks with majority leader Saad al-Hariri.
 
The call for a new session on Dec. 11 showed the two sides
believe they are within reach of a broad power-sharing agreement
that would ensure a two-thirds quorum for parliament to elect
Suleiman.
 
Direct talks between the anti-Syrian ruling majority and the
Hezbollah-led opposition, brokered by French Foreign Minister
Bernard Kouchner this week, have failed to clinch a deal on how
to amend the constitution to allow Suleiman to take the job.
 
Christian opposition leader Michel Aoun, who has his own
demands, has also yet to give his consent.
 
"Things are moving in the right direction, but more time is
needed," one political source said.
 
The presidency, reserved for a Maronite Christian under
Lebanon's sectarian power-sharing system, has been empty since
pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud left office on Nov. 23.
 
Suleiman, 59, emerged as the consensus choice after Hariri
and his allies dropped their insistence on electing a candidate
clearly opposed to Syrian influence in Lebanon.
 
The army commander, who is on good terms with Hezbollah, was
appointed to his post in 1998 when Syria controlled Lebanon.
 
Nevertheless, he has gained respect across the political
spectrum for keeping the army neutral and curbing outbreaks of
civil strife. He also won prestige from a 15-week army battle
with Islamist fighters in a Palestinian refugee camp this year.
 
If elected, Suleiman will have to tread carefully if he aims
to be a more unifying president than Lahoud, also a former army
chief, whose term was extended in 2004 at Syria's behest.
 
Electing a president would help defuse a political crisis
involving Western-backed factions and Hezbollah, allied to Syria
and Iran, that has paralysed Lebanon for more than a year.
 
French role
 
Sunni Muslim politician Hariri and Berri, who heads the
Shi'ite opposition faction Amal, have met in the past few days
in the presence of Kouchner, who has been shuttling between
rival leaders to try to break the deadlock.
 
French officials have also been in touch with Syria and Iran
to try to calm Lebanese disputes over the presidency.
 
This week's talks in Beirut have focused on the mechanism
for electing Suleiman, shaping a national unity government and
plans for a new law ahead of a 2009 parliamentary election.
 
Political sources said one obstacle was a demand by Aoun,
Hezbollah's main Christian ally, that the next prime minister be
a neutral figure, although his opposition colleagues were ready
to accept a candidate chosen by the ruling majority.
 
Aoun wants enough seats in the next cabinet to reflect the
size of his parliamentary bloc, the biggest Christian faction.
 
The rival camps also remain at odds over exactly how to
amend the constitution, which bans senior public servants from
running for office, to allow Suleiman to be elected.
 
Berri wants the amendment to bypass Prime Minister Fouad
Siniora, while Hariri insists any move should go through the
government. The opposition says Siniora's cabinet lost its
legitimacy when all its Shi'ite members resigned last year.
 

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said on Thursday he had
urged Lebanese leaders to move quickly to elect a president.

Date created : 2007-12-07

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