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Anti-Syrian accepts his election loss in Lebanon

Associated Press

SOUK EL-GHARB, Lebanon – Anti-Syrian candidates apparently suffered major losses in a third round of elections Sunday to fill nearly half the seats in parliament, a senior opposition leader conceded after a campaign that led to some surprising alliances.

Walid Jumblatt said former army commander Michel Aoun, who broke opposition ranks and joined pro-Syrian groups on an anti-corruption slate, was winning in contested constituencies.

Aoun’s success could hurt the opposition’s drive to gain a majority in the 128-seat legislature and leave him a key player in the fight over Syrian control. This could put the brakes on the opposition’s campaign to remove the pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud.

Preliminary results showed Aoun and his allies leading in several districts in Mount Lebanon and in the eastern Bekaa Valley. In some areas, his allies were already celebrating with fireworks. Official results were expected today.

Jumblatt accused Aoun, who returned from 14 years’ exile in May, of being brought in by Syria.

Aoun says his feud with Syria is over now that Damascus has withdrawn its army. He campaigned on a platform to fight corruption he blames for Lebanon’s economic ills, including a national debt of more than $30 billion.

The Christian leader said he was willing to talk with other factions in the new parliament and the priorities of his Free Patriotic Movement would be to work for a new election law, shorten the mandate of parliament’s four-year term and demand the government carry out a financial audit.

Anti-Syrian forces need at least 45 more seats to win a firm grasp on Parliament and wean it of Damascus’ control. The four-stage elections end next Sunday when voters cast their ballots in northern Lebanon.

The withdrawal of Syria’s army from Lebanon in April, and subsequent jockeying for power, fractured some of the longstanding pro- and anti-Syrian political alliances.

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