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Monday, October 22, 2007

Lebanon Presidential election likely to be postponed, again

Mohamad Shmaysani source almanartv


A scheduled parliament session this week to elect Lebanon's president is expected to be postponed again as feuding political parties are unable to agree on a consensus candidate, analysts and politicians say. House Speaker Nabih Berri postponed a first session on September 24 in hopes of lawmakers reaching agreement on a consensus candidate to replace the current head of state Emile Lahoud, whose term ends November 24.

The foreign ministers of France, Italy and Spain visited the country Saturday in a diplomatic push for the two sides to reach agreement ends November 24. The foreign ministers of France, Italy and Spain visited the country Saturday in a diplomatic push for the two sides to reach agreement.

Lebanese newspapers expressed optimism following a dinner meeting Friday between Berri and Saad Hariri, the head of the Future parliamentary bloc. Berri said the two had discussed possible candidates for the presidency during their talks which took place in a "positive atmosphere". There are fears that if no president is elected before November 23, Lebanon may end up with two rival governments.

The three European foreign ministers met on Saturday with several Lebanese leaders. They later met party leaders and representatives from across the political spectrum at the French ambassador's residence. "We all felt that the situation was improving, moving towards the better," France's FM Bernard Kouchner said after the last meeting. "I can say that at the end of this long day and with the exception of some small issues, there is positive dialogue. They are not all in agreement ... but they are prepared to negotiate their differences to reach a solution, themselves alone, not us on behalf of them." For his part, Spain's Foreign Minister Miguel-Angel Moratinos said there was a chance for Lebanon to open a new chapter with the election of a new president, a new road towards democracy and freedom. "This is what the Lebanese are desperate for and friends of Lebanon will help them achieve that," he said.

Hezbollah deputy Secretary General Sheikh Naim Kassem warned that failing to reach a consensus candidate would prompt the Lebanese National Opposition to take substitute steps to preserve the country. "Consensus is the last thing the opposition can offer," Sheikh Kassem said. The deputy Secretary General tackled reports of an intention to build a US airbase in north Lebanon. "Those who are speaking of a US-Lebanese partnership are trying to convince us of the necessity to be crushed in front of the Israeli project, but this will not happen," his eminence warned adding that any US base in Lebanon would be dealt with as a hostile act against Lebanon.

Lebanese opposition representatives stressed during the gathering they have been cooperative in every step taken towards a solution. They added that the opposition had abandoned the demand of forming a national unity government and backed Berri's initiative. They also called on Europe to help ease down Washington pressure on Lebanon. Opposition MPs meanwhile warned against any stance, implication or facilitation to the February 14 bloc to elect a president with the half-plus-one MPs formula instead of the quorum set by the constitution; that is the two-third majority of MPs.

Earlier the ministers visited their respective U.N. contingents in south Lebanon which are part of a UNIFIL force. UNIFIL has been the target of attacks, the most serious of which killed six U.N. troops from the Spanish battalion in June.
Italian Foreign Minister Massimo D'alema warned against such attacks, saying no one should even think of carrying them out. "There is a terrorist threat in south Lebanon as well, but ... I tell you that we are here to do our work and no one should even think of threatening the international forces that are in Lebanon," D'alema said after the last meeting. "If there are some terrorists who are thinking of this, then they are wrong," he added.

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