UN's Ban warns of political void in Lebanon

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UNITED NATIONS, Oct 25 (Reuters) UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said he was worried that Lebanese militias were arming to prepare for a ''constitutional void'' if parliament cannot agree on a new president.

The presidential election was delayed for the second time this week until November 12 to allow time for pro- and anti-Syrian groups to find a compromise candidate to succeed pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud, whose term expires on November 23.

Agreement on a new president is seen as vital to resolving Lebanon's most serious political crisis since the 1975-1990 civil war. It pits the Western-backed, anti-Syrian government against the opposition, led by pro-Syrian Hezbollah.

If no president is elected before Lahoud's term expires, there are fears that Lebanon could end up with two rival governments and even slide back into armed conflict.

''There must not be a constitutional void at the level of the presidency, nor two rivaling governments,'' Ban said in a report for the UN Security Council distributed yesterday, urging Lebanese leaders to engage in dialogue on a president.

''There continue to be widespread reports and allegations that parties and groups on all sides of the political spectrum are preparing for the possible failure of such negotiations, with armaments and military training reported widely.'' Lebanon's president traditionally comes from the country's Maronite Christian minority. Lebanon has been locked in political crisis since the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in February 2005. A UN investigation implicated Syrian officials in the murder.

Many Lebanese parliamentarians have been holed up in a Beirut hotel for weeks for fear of joining a growing list of anti-Syrian deputies assassinated in the past two years.

Ban said Lebanese security forces reported that militias, including Hezbollah, were conducting military training around the country, and handing out weapons to their supporters, ''The re-emergence of militias is certainly one of the most disturbing developments over the past six months,'' Ban said.

He said reports suggesting Hezbollah had increased its military capacity compared to the period before the 2006 war with Israel were ''deeply disconcerting.'' He said a fair election ''without any foreign interference'' was vital, and urged Syria, in particular, to live up to its commitments to respect Lebanon's sovereignty and political independence.

Reuters AK VP0530

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