Lebanon elects army chief as president

 

Lebanon’s parliament elected army commander General Michel Suleiman as president today in a long-delayed vote that was a key step toward restoring political stability.

Celebratory gunfire and occasional explosions reverberated across the capital Beirut as news of General Suleiman’s election was announced.

In the general’s hometown of Aamchit on the Mediterranean coast north of Beirut, hundreds of people broke out in cheers and dancing in the main square as they watched the vote on a giant screen.

The Hezbollah-led opposition and Western-backed government agreed last week to elect General Suleiman as part of their deal to end an 18-month political crisis. The stalemate erupted into violence earlier this month, bringing the country to the brink of another civil war.

The presidential vote had been postponed 19 times since November when the last president, Emile Lahoud, left office.

General Suleiman, a compromise candidate, ran unopposed. He won 118 votes of the 127 living members of the legislature, according to parliament speaker Nabih Berri.

There were six blank ballots. Two legislators voted for one-time presidential hopefuls and one was in the name “Rafik Hariri and the martyred legislators” — a reference to the murdered former prime minister and five other politicians killed in bombings in the last three years.