Lebanon MPs to vote-in new president

 

Lebanon's parliament is set to vote in army chief General Michel Suleiman as the country's 11th president today, filling a post left vacant for six months by a crisis that threatened a new civil war.

A Qatari-brokered deal between rival Lebanese leaders last week defused 18 months of political stalemate that erupted into street fighting this month. Iranian-backed Hizbullah fighters briefly seized parts of Beirut, routing government loyalists.

Members of parliament from the US-supported ruling majority and the Hezbollah-led opposition will attend a parliamentary session at 1400 GMT to elect Suleiman as president, as stipulated by the Doha agreement. The vote had been postponed 19 times because of the crisis.

The deal achieved most of the opposition's demands and secured the election of a president who has good ties with Syria and Hizbullah. The agreement was widely seen as a setback to Washington and its allies, who had pressed for the disarming of Hizbullah and the isolation of Damascus.

"God willing, with the election of the president, Lebanon will move into a stage of stability and calm ...," Arab League chief Amr Moussa said on arrival in Beirut to attend the vote.

The deal also calls for the formation of a national unity government where the opposition has veto power and a new law for the 2009 general election.

The agreement aims to defuse a conflict that has stoked sectarian tensions, paralysed government and the country's constitutional institutions, and battered the economy.

Parliament has not met for more than a year and a half, during which time the government of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora has barely functioned. Bouts of violence claimed scores of lives and revived memories of the 1975-90 civil war.

Sunday's vote will be attended by Qatar's emir and his prime minister - the driving force behind the Doha agreement - and a host of foreign ministers, including those of arch-rivals Syria and Saudi Arabia as well as of France, Turkey, Egypt and Iran.

Saudi Arabia, France and Egypt back the government while Iran and Syria support the opposition. No US administration official is expected at the session though a delegation from Congress arrived to attend the vote.

Lebanese troops tightened security in the capital, blocking off streets leading to parliament in downtown Beirut.