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Lebanon election win for Hariri bloc confirmed

From Reuters

hariri

BEIRUT (Reuters) – A surprise election victory by an anti-Syrian coalition in Lebanon against the Iranian-backed Hezbollah and its allies was officially confirmed on Monday.

Results declared by Interior Minister Ziad Baroud showed Saad al-Hariri’s pro-Western bloc had won 71 of parliament’s 128 seats, against 57 for an opposition alliance that groups Shi’ite factions Hezbollah and Amal with Christian leader Michel Aoun.

Hariri’s total includes three independents who ran on his lists in Sunday’s election, which many had predicted would produce a slim victory for Hezbollah and its partners.

Supporters celebrated into the early hours. The result renewed Hariri’s mandate four years after an election that followed the exit of Syrian troops from Lebanon amid an outcry over the assassination of his statesman father Rafik al-Hariri.

The vote was a blow to Syria and Iran, which support Hezbollah, and welcome news for the United States, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, which back the “March 14” bloc, named after the date of a huge rally against Syria’s military presence in 2005.

The United States had no immediate comment, but France, another backer of the bloc, praised the “smooth functioning” of the election, which went off in mostly peaceful style.

“This vote, marked by a high level of participation, illustrates the vitality of Lebanese democracy,” the French Foreign Ministry said. It expressed confidence that President Michel Suleiman would ensure swift formation of a new government that “takes the country on the path of reforms.”

Hezbollah and Amal swept the vote in mainly Shi’ite areas, but defeat for Aoun in the key Christian districts of Zahleh and Ashrafiyeh deprived the alliance of the majority it had sought.

Hariri, a Sunni Muslim, emerged as front-runner to lead the next government, following in the steps of his slain father, who as prime minister oversaw Lebanon’s post-civil war rebuilding.

TOTAL ACCEPTANCE

Amal leader and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri said he fully accepted the results and congratulated the winners. “Lebanon has defeated all bets on chaos and strife and again gained its existence and reputation as a democratic country,” he said.

Lebanon’s rival camps are at odds over Hezbollah’s guerrilla force, more powerful than the Lebanese army, and relations with Syria, which dominated Lebanon for three decades until 2005.

The likeliest outcome of the poll is another “national unity” government, analysts say, though its formation might not go smoothly if the Hezbollah camp again insists on veto power.

The United States, which lists Hezbollah as a terrorist group, has linked future aid to Lebanon to the shape and policies of the next government. Hezbollah, which says it must keep its arms to deter Israel, is part of the outgoing cabinet.

The March 14 coalition won the 2005 election in alliance with Hezbollah and Amal, but soon fell out with them, leading to a prolonged and sometimes violent conflict.  Continued…

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