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French Version

Lebanon's opposition claims victory

Hariri-led anti-Syrian alliance secures parliamentary majority in decisive North Lebanon poll

Lebanon's anti-Syrian opposition looked set to win outright control of Parliament last night in the decisive final round of the country's first elections free of Syrian control in almost 30 years.

Early indications from North Lebanon showed the united list of Saad Hariri, the son of murdered former Premier Rafik Hariri, had won enough seats to secure a majority in Parliament for his united opposition grouping.

Leading opposition politician Boutros Harb said: "According to incomplete results, we are heading for a total victory."

The anti-Syrian opposition needed to secure at least 21 of the 28 seats up for grabs in yesterday's poll to have a parliamentary majority. But it remains unclear whether the opposition will have the two-thirds majority required to end to the term of Lebanon's pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud, who still has a further two years in office after a controversial Damascus-inspired extension last September which was the catalyst for the uniting the country's opposition groupings.

The coalition had already won 44 seats in Lebanon's 128-member Parliament in previous rounds since the election process began on May 29.

Like last week's polls, North Lebanon was the scene of a close battle between the opposition coalition and maverick Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun, who refused to join the opposition alliance.

Having won 21 seats in earlier previous rounds, Aoun had threatened to upset the Hariri list's ambition to take sole control of the long Syrian-dominated Parliament.

In a vitriolic campaign, both sides repeatedly attacked each other's anti-Syrian credentials.

The last round of elections was also marred by allegations of corruption, after Aoun accused Hariri of using his father's multi-billion-dollar fortune to buy votes. Many on Aoun's list also accused Hariri of rousing sectarianism by indirectly appealing to the North's slight Muslim majority to vote in high numbers for his lists.

Turnout in North Lebanon was estimated at a relatively high 49 percent and as high as 90 percent in some villages.

Hariri's list includes the Lebanese Forces and the Christian opposition Qornet Shehwan Gathering, and it is from these parties that Lebanon's next government will likely be formed.

Aoun is also staunchly anti-Syrian but allied with prominent pro-Syrian figures to fight the elections after his failure to join forces with the rest of the opposition last month.

His list, which included pro-Syrian symbol Suleiman Franjieh, was also backed by pro-Damascus former Premier Omar Karami. It also received last-minute backing from the Syrian Social National Party, which was fielding an independent candidate in the North.

Aoun defended his alliances. He said: "I am the only politician in this country who didn't collaborate with the Syrians."

Although Hariri's killing played a large part in uniting

the Lebanese political opposition, the unity proved to be short lived during the run-up to the elections and religious allegiances took over.

Premier Najib Mikati. as he cast his vote in Tripoli, responded to the opposition's allegations of Syrian pressure on voters by saying: "There has been no intervention by Syria to influence voters. There are no Syrian agents at work."

European legislator Jose Ignacio Salafranca said he took note of allegations of vote buying. He added: "Competition is high, which is a healthy sign."

About 680,000 people were eligible to vote on Sunday. Voters were divided into two districts, represented by 11 MPs and comprising the areas of Akkar, Dinnieh and Bsharri, and the second district, Tripoli, Minieh, Zghorta, Batroun and Koura, by 17 MPs.

Aoun's bloc held 23 seats, while Hizbullah and the Amal movement grabbed 35 seats.

Beirut,06 20 2005
Nayla Assaf
The Daily Star
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