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French Version

Lebanon's opposition scramble to mend differences

Lebanon's political opposition, which successfully united to help drive Syria out of the country, is desperately trying to mend its differences ahead of the upcoming parliamentary elections.

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But there remains little chance the opposition will run as a single bloc when the country goes to the polls this month.

Saad Hariri, the son of slain former premier Rafik Hariri, made a surprise visit to the home of former army commander Michel Aoun last night in a possible sign of rapprochement but said nothing about possible electoral alliances. Hariri had delayed the much awaited announcement of his list of candidates until later today or Thursday.

The list was due to be released last night but a source close to Hariri said: "We needed to undergo more consultations with our allies."

Hariri's list is tipped to win most if not all the seats in Beirut due to the massive wave of sympathy triggered by his father's brutal murder in February.

But it is widely acknowledged that while the current electoral law favors Hariri, it limits the power of his Christian opposition allies who under the law fall into large Muslim dominated voting districts.

It is also understood the Christian opposition is unhappy at only being offered one seat on Hariri's list.

Hariri's ally, Beirut MP Nabil de Freij denied there was any friction in the opposition camp over the issue. He said: "The opposition is very much united. There is no problem."

He said the list, which swept all the seats in the previous elections in 2000, will stay as is, "apart from a few exceptions, namely the new names that will replace the MPs that left the coalition."

The new names are understood to include longtime Hariri ally, former minister Bahij Tabbara (Sunni), Ghazi Youssef (Shiite) another longtime ally, and Mohammed Daouk (Sunni), a neutral politician.

The only Christian politician on the list is Gebran Tueni, director General of Lebanon's An-Nahar daily and a member of the Qornet Shehwan Christian opposition group.

In addition to being upset at Hariri for only allocating one seat to the Christian opposition, a source added that they were also displeased that Hariri had failed to consult them over

who he will pick to run for the Maronite seat on his list. It is understood Hariri will ask his ally Beirut MP Ghattas Khoury to run for the seat.

De Freij said: "Ghattas Khoury was extremely successful during his time as MP. He played a very important role in spearheading the opposition before and after the killing of Premier Hariri and I cannot find one reason why we should think of replacing him."

Speaking to thousands of supporters on Monday night, Saad Hariri said he will announce his list soon and urged voters to turn up in large numbers to the polling booths.

He said: "Loyalty to the martyr prime minister compels citizens to exercise their voting duty by casting their ballots and choosing their representatives in the next Parliament."

The opposition met yesterday ahead of announcing their lists which are expected to be released later this week.

Gibran Bassil, the representative of General Michel Aoun's Free Patriotic Movement left the meeting saying it had been "positive," but added: "The intifada for independence is not complete yet. More unity is needed in the stages ahead."

The return Michel Aoun after his fifteen year exile in France has triggered tensions within the opposition.

All eyes now will be on the Bristol Gathering's all important meeting on Thursday which will now be decisive in determining whether Aoun will ally with the opposition or with loyalists who are equally keen to form an alliance with the popular former general.

It is understood many loyalists have lost much of their former popularity and are now playing on sectarian sentiments to gain votes.

Prominent Christian loyalist leader, Suleiman Franjieh said he was considering allying with Aoun. The pro-Syrian figure said: "Today, more than any other day, the Christains need to be united."

But Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Butros Sfeir, the patron of the Christian opposition, lashed out at Syria's former allies. He said: "Some of those who used to take orders from outside have found themselves lost once the tutelage stopped."

Sfeir also called for an extraordinary meeting of the Maronite Bishop's council today and is expected to discuss the elections.

Speaking from his hometown of Mosseileh, pro-Syrian Speaker Nabih Berri, who has been involved in ongoing bickering with the Christian opposition over the electoral law, said he was "not plotting against the nation." He insisted he is trying to apply the Taif Accord and again criticised the opposition for demanding changes to the law.

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Beirut 11-05-2005
Nayla Assaf
The Daily Star

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