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French Version

Suleiman elected president, goes straight at toughest issues

New head of state picks up 118 votes out of 127 cast

Lebanon's Parliament elected the commander of the Lebanese Armed Forces General Michel Suleiman as president on Sunday, ending six months of presidential vacuum. Suleiman got 118 out of the 127 votes cast, with six blank ballots and three invalid ones. The votes counted as invalid were cast for Nassib Lahoud, Jean Obeid and "slain former Premier Rafik Hariri and the martyred MPs."

The election took place in the presence of Qatari Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, his Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassem al-Thani, members of the Arab ministerial committee which brokered the recent Doha agreement, Arab League chief Amr Moussa, and a number of senior Arab and international figures (see the complete list of attendees on page 8).

After Suleiman was sworn in, the government of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora resigned in line with the Constitution but will stay on in a caretaker capacity.

Suleiman arrived at Parliament shortly after the election accompanied by Speaker Nabih Berri, who left the Parliament building after the vote and returned with the newly elected president in line with protocol.

After taking the presidential oath, Suleiman delivered an inaugural address that dealth with several contentious issues, including Lebanese-Syrian ties and the deadly clashes that struck Lebanon earlier this month. He called for good and balanced relations with Damascus - whose foreign minister, Walid Moallem, was in attendance - based on mutual respect.

"Both Lebanon and Syria should also respect each other's borders," the president added.

In an indirect reference to the recent clashes between opposition and pro-government supporters, Suleiman said Lebanon's weapons should only be directed at the Israeli enemy.

Prior to Suleiman's address, Berri congratulated the new president and praised the patience and sacrifices of the Lebanese people. "This is a historic moment," Berri said.

"I ask God to help you succeed in steering the Lebanese ship to a safe haven ... today no one in the world can turn Lebanon into a fighting arena," he added, addressing Suleiman.

Berri thanked various countries, including Russia, France, Italy, Spain as well as the Arab League for their help in bringing an end to the 18-month old political crisis.

But he took a swipe at Washington, saying: "I thank the United States nonetheless, seeing that it seems to have been convinced that Lebanon is not the appropriate place for its New Middle East plan." He was referring to comments made by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who described the plight of Lebanon during Israel's 2006 war against it as part of the "birth pangs of the New Middle East."

After Suleiman's inaugural address, Qatar's emir delivered a speech to the Parliament and international guests. "I want to tell you that there is a victor and a vanquished in Lebanon today ... Lebanon is the victor and internal strife is the vanquished," Sheikh Hamad said.

"Two years ago, I saw the courage and strength of the resistance in Lebanon when resistance was necessary ... today, I am seeing another form of courage ... it is the courage of wisdom," he added.

Sheikh Hamad appealed for Arab unity while stressing the role of the Arab League in solving inter-Arab disputes. "Our similarities are far more than our differences," he said.

Suleiman, who met separately with Berri and Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki at Parliament, was to spend the night at his home before heading to the Presidential Palace on Monday morning.

Mottaki also met Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal at the Parliament.

The newly elected president is expected to start parliamentary consultations on Tuesday in a bid to name a new prime minister, who, in turn, will hold his own consultations on the lineup of the next cabinet.

Prior to the election, MPs Butros Harb, Hussein al-Husseini, Nayla Mouawad and George Adwan voiced reservations about the procedure of used to elect Suleiman, describing it as "unconstitutional."

The lawmakers said they preferred to see Suleiman elected after amending Article 49 of the Lebanese Constitution. The article bans the election of grade one officials unless they have resigned two years prior to being elected to the country's top post.

Berri responded that the election process was in line with Article 74 of the Constitution. The article stipulates that if a presidential vacuum occurs, Parliament should immediately meet and elect a president.

Beirut 26-05-2008
The Daily Star

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