(AFP) – Feb 25, 2008
BEIRUT (AFP) — A parliamentary session to elect Lebanon's president due on Tuesday was postponed until March 11 due to continued deadlock between rival political leaders, the speaker's office said on Monday.
"Parliament speaker Nabih Berri decided to postpone Tuesday's electoral session to Monday, March 11 at noon," it said in a statement. "The speaker wants to give a chance to (Arab League) efforts" to resolve the crisis.
The decision to postpone the vote for the 15th time since September came following a failed new mediation by Arab League chief Amr Mussa to break the deadlock between the Western-backed majority and the Hezbollah-led opposition.
Lebanon has been without a president since November, when pro-Syrian Emile Lahoud stepped down at the end of his mandate with no elected successor because of the deadlock between the pro- and anti-Syrian camps.
Mussa held two meetings between rival leaders and told reporters that while some headway was made in breaking the standoff, more talks were needed.
"We have succeeded in dealing with some points on the agenda, and the agenda is long, but there are still some points that need further discussion," he told a news conference.
The two meetings late on Sunday and Monday brought together parliamentary majority leader Saad Hariri and former president Amin Gemayel with Michel Aoun, who is allied with the Hezbollah-led opposition.
Mussa said the two sides agree on electing army chief General Michel Sleiman as president and the need for a new electoral law, but they disagree on the make-up of the new government.
"It is a given that the opposition will have 10 ministers in the new government but the question is how to split the remaining 20 portfolios," Mussa said.
The opposition is seeking enough seats in the new government to give it veto power, a scenario rejected by the ruling majority.
The standoff has paralysed the government and led to mounting communal tensions.
In addition to Tuesday's postponed session, 14 previous parliamentary attempts to elect a successor to pro-Syrian Emile Lahoud, who stepped down in November, have been cancelled, triggering Lebanon's worst internal crisis since the end of the 1975-1990 civil war.
The international community has made several attempts to try to resolve the feud and the political tensions have on occasion boiled over into street clashes in Beirut, prompting warnings of renewed civil strife.
The standoff is widely viewed as an extension of the regional conflict pitting the United States and its Arab allies against Syria and Iran.
Egypt and Gulf states fear an upcoming Arab summit could be scuppered if Lebanon fails to begin resolving its political crisis by naming a new president, a senior Bahraini official told AFP on Monday.
"Egypt and the Gulf states see it necessary to resolve the question of the empty presidential post in Lebanon before the summit," the official, who declined to be named, said after talks in Manama between Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Bahrain's King Hamad.
Egypt and Gulf states believe "failure to resolve this question could contribute to the failure of the summit", which is due to take place in Damascus on March 29-30, the official added.
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