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French Version

Lebanon election alliances unravel as opposition struggles

Jumblatt reaches out to aoun

In the latest twist in Lebanon's increasingly tortured election campaign a delegation from Druze leader Walid Jumblatt paid a surprise visit to Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun in a move to shore up fast disintegrating opposition unity.

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The meeting is widely seen as an attempt to maintain a semblance of unity among the opposition which has become increasingly fractious in recent weeks endangering its success in upcoming elections, which begin at the end of this month.

Chouf MP Marwan Hamade, who led the delegation said: "We came here to welcome the general back in Lebanon on behalf of Jumblatt."

But Jumblatt, who has criticized Aoun since his return last week, was absent from the gathering although speaking later on Lebanese television, the Druze leader insisted he "had no problem with Aoun."

Following the meeting Hamade said: "The most important issue right now is that the opposition goes through elections as a united front."

Meanwhile unity among the opposition continued to deteriorate after they failed to reach a solution enabling the movement's various parties to face the elections as a united front, postponing a decision on the issue until a "summit meeting" due to be held in the next 24 hours.

Instead they agreed to set up a leadership committee to draft joint electoral lists to bolster Christian representation in parliamentary elections to be held later this month.

Christian leaders have criticised the legislative framework for the elections which are seen as robbing many Christians of the right to vote for their own MPs.

But Aoun criticised the opposition decision to try to balance this by ensuring they draft lists which will include extra Christians in some areas.

FPM politburo member Jibran Bassil said: "Aoun considers that the main problem lies in the electoral law because it is unfair, not only to Christians, but to all of Lebanon."

He added: "Our position on the matter is, if the Lebanese could agree on a unifying electoral law, there is no problem in postponing the elections for a short while."

Opposition MP Antoine Ghanem said Aoun, Jumblatt, Saad Hariri and Strida Geagea, the wife of jailed Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea, are expected to attend the meeting, in addition to representatives of the Qornet Shehwan Christian gathering.

He said: "It is very hard to reach solutions for imminent problems the opposition is facing in a vast meeting like today's. That is why a summit meeting between the heads of opposition factions was decided on."

Ghanem also said there was way "no way" the opposition would call for the postponement of elections.

He said: "If the elections are postponed, they might as well be cancelled because the security apparatus will make sure they will be postponed for an indefinite period."

Following the opposition meeting, Beirut MP Ghattas Khoury said: "We have decided to call all heads of opposition factions to a meeting in order to draft joint electoral lists that could contain the flaws of the electoral law of 2000."

Hariri, the son of slain Premier Rafik Hariri, also postponed the declaration of his electoral list, expected yesterday, until further notice.

In a statement, Hariri said the delay " will allow more consultations, which are important in stressing the unity of the national stance and in containing the atmosphere of sectarian incitement."

Hariri's decision to delay announcing his electoral list came at the same time as Hizbullah released its lists for the country, although it failed to publish a list for Bekaa.

Hizbullah Deputy Secretary General Sheikh Naim Qassem said the party's controversial political alliance in Baabda-Aley is still under discussion, and will be announced in the next couple of days.

But he added their alliance in Beirut was settled. Qassem said: "Hizbullah will be part of Hariri's electoral list."

Separately, Premier Najib Mikati said said the government was committed to holding elections on time, but added: "We are ready for any suggestion by Parliament that could decrease the amount of political tension in the country."

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Beirut 13-05-2005
Majdoline Hatoum
The Daily Star

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