Lebanese PM says cabinet assumes presidential powers

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BEIRUT, Nov 24 (Reuters) Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora today said his cabinet was assuming the powers of the presidency in the absence of a successor to Emile Lahoud, whose mandate expired at midnight last night.

But Siniora said its main mission would be to complete the presidential election process after parliament failed yesterday to vote for a new president acceptable to both sides in a dispute complicated by foreign interests.

The opposition, led by the Shi'ite Muslim group Hezbollah and backed by Syria and Iran, denies the legitimacy of the Siniora government, which has US and European support.

''When the presidency is vacant, the powers of the presidency devolve to the cabinet ... which is the legitimate and constitutional cabinet according to the constitution,'' Siniora told a news conference in Bkerke near Beirut.

The prime minister tried to reassure Lebanese that the country was not in danger of sliding into violence.

''I am confident that there is absolutely no need for concern,'' he said. ''We know well that the Lebanese have absolutely no desire to bring back the pains of the past.'' REUTERS RJ SK AS1724

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