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French Version

Visiting dignitaries, local officials react warmly to election

Local and visiting international figures expressed hope that Sunday's election of President Michel Suleiman as the new head of state will mark the beginning of a new era of political stability in Lebanon. French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said Lebanon was entering a "positive phase."

"What Lebanon is experiencing now is a positive phase, and I'm pleased that I was invited to this important event, even if we had hoped to reach this agreement in a more democratic manner," he said, in reference to street clashes earlier in May between pro-government and opposition supporters, which led to Hizbullah and its allies temporarily taking control of the western sector of Beirut.

"The important thing about the Doha agreement lies in the fact that various Lebanese groups were able to reach an agreement, and that is what France and the international community long sought," Kouchner said shortly after he arrived in Beirut to attend the parliamentary session to elect a new president.

Lebanese leaders met under the auspices of Qatari Emir Hamad bin Khalifah al-Thani and Prime Minister Hamad bin Jassem bin Jabr al-Thani in Doha last week to reach a deal to end Lebanon's 18-month-old political stalemate. After five days of extensive dialogue meetings and discussions, attendees agreed to elect Suleiman and to adopt a new parliamentary electoral law approved by all factions.

Meanwhile, Iranian Foreign Minister Manoucher Mottaki expressed his country's support for the Lebanese, "especially regarding the election of a new president." Mottaki who arrived in Beirut on Sunday to attend the election session told reporters at the Beirut airport that "all the Arab and Islamic countries are pleased with the agreement that the Lebanese were able to achieve in Doha."

"Achieving stability and security in Lebanon will achieve stability in the whole region."

Mottaki later visited the southern suburbs of Beirut, where he placed a wreath on the grave of slain Hizbullah commander Imad Mugniyeh, assassinated in Damascus in February.

Hours before heading to Beirut along with Egyptian Speaker Fathi Sorour to attend the presidential election, Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmad Abu al-Gheit said in a press communique that his country will keep giving political support to Lebanon and to the Lebanese in order to maintain the stability that was achieved in the Doha agreement.

Abu al-Gheit said that Egypt will monitor the situation closely because of "its immense interest in Lebanon."

Abu al-Gheit said that Egypt has an optimistic view of the situation that as a result of the breakthrough in the Lebanese crisis, adding that his country will continue its efforts to achieve stability in the region.

Also on Sunday, European Union Foreign Policy Chief Javier Solana said the election was a "true achievement" and expressed surprise that it took various Lebanese groups "some time to reach this accord."

"Electing a Lebanese president is a huge achievement, but the remaining clauses of the agreement must be implemented after that," he added.

Meanwhile, Hizbullah's number two Sheikh Naim Qassem said that the political deadlock in Lebanon and the bickering between the ruling coalition and the opposition "had a strictly political aspect to it."

"What we dealt with at [dialogue talks in] Doha are political problems about political matters, for there are no sectarian or religious problems either between Sunnis and Shiites, or between Muslims and Christians," Qassem said in an address on Sunday.

"We believe that sectarian disputes have no place in Leb-anon and sectarian strife must not find its way into Lebanon, no matter what," he said. He added that Lebanon was "always on its guard so that Israel will not take Lebanon by surprise."

"The mission of the next government must be focused on creating social and economic plans to rebuild Lebanon, in addition to solving all pending problems within institutions and through dialogue," he added.

Beirut 26-05-2008
The Daily Star

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