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French Version

Suleiman warns Lebanese are 'fed up' with political impasse

Suleiman warns Lebanese are 'fed up' with political impasse
Army chief says he wants to resign from his post in august

The commander of the Lebanese Armed Forces, General Michel Suleiman, announced in remarks published Thursday that he would leave his post in August and warned feuding political factions that he would bow out of the presidential race if his election as a compromise candidate is not secured by then.

The announcement by the army chief that he would leave his post - at least three months before officially retiring - was viewed as a warning to both the parliamentary majority and the opposition to break the deadlock that has left Lebanon without a president since November.

A resignation by Suleiman ahead of a resolution to the political crisis would almost certainly worsen Lebanon's 16-month-old political crisis, its worst since the end of the 1975-90 Civil War. The army under Suleiman has been neutral in the ongoing power struggle between the pro-government and opposition groups.

The two opposing sides have supported the 59-year-old Suleiman as a consensus candidate to end a dangerous power vacuum after pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud's term ended in November without a successor elected.

But Suleiman's election has been held up by political bickering in Parliament between the Western-backed governing coalition and the Hizbullah-led opposition over power-sharing in a future government.

In the interview Thursday in As-Safir daily, which is close to the opposition, Suleiman said he had had enough of the continued "polarization" between the opposing sides and that he felt his dignity was hurt over the ongoing bickering.

"Every time we take one step forward we find ourselves facing another series of steps that need to be taken before electing a president," he said.

"This leaves us with a mountain of contradictory conditions that must be met if a new president is to be elected.

"If one side nominates me the other side protests. If one country supports my candidacy another opposes it," he added.

Suleiman said he would not wait until the last day of his military service on November 21 to retire. Instead, he has decided he would quit as army chief on August 21, three months before retirement, by taking accumulated vacation days, As-Safir said.

The paper described the decision as "a highly explosive political bomb" that could also scuttle an Arab foreign ministers plan adopted in Egypt in January to solve the Lebanese crisis. The plan calls for the election of Suleiman as a consensus president, formation of a national unity government and the adoption of a new electoral law.

Suleiman said he would "hold all [factions] responsible and make them understand that the continuation of the current situation will lead to a daily exhaustion of the army and also the exhaustion of the Lebanese who are fed up with politics and politicians."

The presidential impasse has compounded the ongoing power struggle between the government of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora and the opposition. The fierce rivalry has sporadically degenerated into street clashes in Beirut between supporters of the two camps.

Beirut 04-04-2008
The Daily Star

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