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Lebanese fail to pick president

Sat., Nov. 24, 2007

BEIRUT, Lebanon – Lebanese factions failed to reach agreement on replacing President Emile Lahoud, whose term expired at midnight Friday, leaving Lebanon without a head of state for the first time since its 1975-90 civil war.

Hours before stepping down, Lahoud ordered the already-mobilized army to take control of security in the country.

Despite fears of strife between the country’s camps – divided over ideology, foreign patrons and their share of power – the deadline for replacing Lahoud, 71, a former general, passed peacefully, with the army deployed across the uneasy capital since morning in jeeps and armored personnel carriers.

The missed deadline appeared more of a symbolic moment for a faltering state, marking yet another institution paralyzed by the yearlong crisis that has already circumscribed the work of the Cabinet and parliament.

Lawmakers predicted the post could remain empty for as little as a week, when the 128-member parliament meets again, or until 2009, when parliamentary elections are scheduled.

“Politically, we can wait,” said Samir Franjieh, a lawmaker allied with the government. “We have a problem: The people are fed up. But politically, we can wait.”

The confrontation is between two camps with roughly equal support and influence in the country of 4 million. On one side is an American-supported coalition that claims its name and legitimacy from a series of protests that culminated March 14, 2005, and helped end Syria’s military presence here. On the other is a coalition that joins followers of a former Christian general, Michel Aoun, with Hezbollah, a Shiite Muslim group supported by Iran and Syria, and followers of Nabih Berri, the parliament speaker and a Syrian ally.

Weeks of mediation, led by France, have subscribed to a time-honored notion in Lebanese politics, that there should be “no victor, no vanquished.”

A sense of foreboding was apparent in Lebanon as the Friday deadline approached. But it became clear during the day that both sides had agreed not to escalate the crisis that led to sectarian clashes in Beirut, the capital, in January.


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