Lebanese president proposes election

 

Lebanon's pro-Syrian president has proposed early parliamentary elections as a way of breaking political deadlock.

President Emile Lahoud also rejected calls by some anti-Syrian leaders for Hezbollah to disarm in line with a 2004 UN resolution, stressing that the anti-Israeli militant guerrilla group should keep its weapons until a peace settlement is reached for the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Lahoud's remarks came as leaders of Lebanon's rival factions are in the midst of a dialogue on the president's fate and Hezbollah's disarmament.

The anti-Syrian coalition, which controls the majority in Lebanon's parliament, is pushing for Lahoud to step down, accusing him of being the top enforcer of Syria's policy in Lebanon. Anti-Syrian groups have accused Syria of responsibility for last year's assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

Syria has denied involvement in Hariri's death. The assassination led to demonstrations against Syria's decades-long dominance of Lebanese affairs and magnified international pressure on Damascus to withdraw its troops, which it eventually did.

Referring to the anti-Syrian groups, Lahoud said in an interview with Al-Jazeera satellite channel broadcast Saturday night: "If they do not fear anything, let them call for early elections and let the new legislators elect a new president."

Lahoud said with the emergence of new alliances since last year's parliamentary elections, the anti-Syrian groups no longer controlled the majority in the 128-member legislature.

He said early parliamentary elections was one way to break the presidential deadlock to determine what the people want. Otherwise, he said, "I will not leave office."

Lahoud has rejected repeated demands by anti-Syrian groups to step down, promising to stay in office until his extended term ends in 2007.

Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri acknowledged Tuesday that Lebanon is facing "a government crisis" because of the call for Lahoud's resignation. The anti-Syrians command a majority in Parliament, but not the two-thirds required to force the president's resignation.

Lahoud was elected president in 1998 for a six-year term that was extended for another three years in September 2004 by pro-Syrian legislators despite opposition from the United States and France.