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Lebanon elections postponed until Feb. 26

Lebanon's parliament speaker, Nabih Berri, has decided to further postpone a parliament session to elect Lebanon's new president until February 26, following the failure of a new Arab mediation bid.

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A parliament session to elect Lebanon's president has been postponed until February 26, leaving a three-month vacancy, the speaker's office said on Saturday after a new Arab mediation bid failed.

Speaker Nabih Berri "has decided to postpone the session that had been scheduled on February 11 to elect a president until Tuesday, February 26," his office said.

Berri, a key member of the opposition backed by Syria and Iran, did not give a reason for the postponement.

But the announcement came shortly after Arab League chief Amr Mussa left Lebanon after failing to mediate a solution to the protracted crisis between the Western-backed ruling majority and the Hezbollah-led opposition.

Mussa met on Friday with parliament majority leader Saad Hariri and opposition tenor Michel Aoun to try to push through a three-point Arab plan to end the crisis, the worst in Lebanon since the end of its 1975-1990 civil war.

After more than four hours of protracted talks with the feuding politicians behind closed doors at the parliament building and separate meetings with Berri and Prime Minister Fuad Siniora, the Arab diplomat decided to leave Beirut.

"We did not accomplish the required progress but we will pursue our contacts until a new meeting is held in the second half of February," Mussa told As-Safir newspaper.

"The situation is complicated and there is a lack" of trust between the two camps, he said, while insisting that the Arab rescue plan for Lebanon was still alive.

"The Arab initiative is still on and there is some hope which we should hold on and which we should exploit," he told reporters at Beirut airport before flying out. "I don't want to exaggerate or give more hope than necessary."

The majority and their rivals in the opposition blamed each other for Mussa's failure to pave the way for Monday's election.

"Friday's meeting did not achieve any real progress and we are still in a stalemate," Jibran Bassil, a political advisor to Aoun, told AFP. "The other camp is not ready for a genuine solution."

Lebanon has been without a head of state since November 23, after pro-Syrian Emile Lahoud stepped down at the end of his term with no elected successor.

The latest delay brings to 14 the number of sessions in parliament that have had to be postponed since September 25, amid failure by the rival parties to pick a successor to Lahoud.

The plan touted by Mussa calls for the election of army chief General Michel Sleiman as president, the formation of a national unity government in which no single party has veto power and a new electoral law.

"We demand veto power," said Bassil.

He also insisted that the opposition agree to Sleiman's election only as part of a "comprehensive basket that includes a clearly defined government... because we don't want to continue living with the Siniora government".

But majority figure Fares Soueid said the Arab plan was "not up for discussion."

"The plan calls for Sleiman's election, and so he should be elected and then let him chair a national dialogue. But the opposition is against this. They want the distribution of government portfolios from now," he said.

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