Analysis; Divided Lebanon Faces Presidential Vacuum

Manila Bulletin, November 24, 2007 | Go to article overview
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Analysis; Divided Lebanon Faces Presidential Vacuum

Byline: TOM PERRY Reuters

BEIRUT - Lebanon's turmoil worsened on Friday with rival political camps failing to find a consensus that would allow parliament to choose a new head of state before pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud's term expires at midnight.

Many fear Lahoud's departure from office with no deal could result in two rival administrations and violence in a country still rebuilding from its 1975-1990 civil war.

The Western-backed majority bloc plans to go to a parliamentary session due to convene at 1 p.m. (1100 GMT), but it is not expected to elect a president in the face of a declared boycott by the Hezbollah-led opposition.

The opposition boycott means the chamber cannot command a two-thirds quorum for a vote already postponed four times.

French-led mediation has failed to forge agreement on Lahoud's successor between groups opposed to Syrian influence in Lebanon and others backed by Damascus, including Hezbollah.

"This is very worrisome," a taxi driver who gave his name only as Mohammad said. "We have learned to expect the worst and this (deadlock) could leave the country in flames."

Thousands of Lebanese soldiers and police, backed by armoured vehicles, deployed across Beirut overnight, lining some streets leading to parliament in downtown Beirut. Others guarded government buildings or manned checkpoints.

Extra measures were taken around a five-star hotel where dozens of anti-Syrian lawmakers have been staying under guard for the past two months for fear of assassination attempts.

Lebanon has been rattled by some 30 politically motivated attacks over the last three years that have killed dozens, including eight anti-Syrian politicians and journalists.

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