UN council urges free, fair Lebanon president vote

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United Nations, Nov 6: The UN Security Council called on Monday for Lebanon's delayed presidential election to be free and fair as the United States suggested there was no need to find a consensus candidate acceptable to Syria.

The vote by the Lebanese parliament has twice been put off and is now set for Nov 12 as the country's deeply divided politicians look for a compromise candidate to succeed pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud amid fears the country could be heading back to civil war.

The run-up to the election has been marked by growing tension, with rival militias arming for conflict and assassins striking three times in the past year at the anti-Syrian bloc, most recently on Sept. 19, when a car bomb killed parliament member Antoine Ghanem. Syria has denied involvement.

A statement issued yesterday after a council meeting said its 15 members ''recalled the need to hold free and fair presidential elections in conformity with the Lebanese constitution and without any foreign interference and influence.'' ''They reaffirmed the need for all parties to resolve all political issues on the basis of reconciliation and national dialogue,'' said the statement read out by current council president Marty Natalegawa of Indonesia.

The disputed election has become Lebanon's most serious political crisis since the end of the 1975-90 civil war.

Anti-Syrian deputies want one of their own in the presidency but pro-Syrian Hezbollah and its allies have vowed to block any candidate of whom they do not approve. On Sept 25 they boycotted the election, denying parliament the two-thirds quorum needed to hold the vote.

Majority Rules

US Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad said the quest for consensus could result in paralysis and that it was enough to have a majority.

Anti-Syrian parliament members currently hold a slim majority in Lebanon's parliament over the pro-Syrian opposition.

''We believe that in democracies presidents can get elected by majority,'' Khalilzad told reporters. ''I think if you demand consensus in every election, that could lead to paralysis.'' Khalilzad also expressed fears that Lahoud might not leave office when his term of office expires at midnight on Nov. 23 or that an ''illegitimate separate government'' might be formed.

''Those outcomes would be unacceptable to the international community,'' Khalilzad said without elaborating. He said the Security Council had not discussed what it might do if the elections did not take place in time.

The anti-Syrians now hold a majority of just three over their rivals, and some 40 parliamentarians from their group have moved into a heavily guarded Beirut hotel for safety.

Last month, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he was worried Lebanese militias were arming to prepare for a ''constitutional void'' if parliament cannot agree.

The council discussed yesterday an even more recent report on Lebanon by Ban, which has upset Syria and Iran because of criticisms of them quoted in it.

The ambassadors of the two countries took issue with allegations cited by Ban that Damascus and Tehran were backing militant groups in Lebanon, saying the charges originated with Israel. Ban's report also quoted Syrian denials.


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