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French Version

Lebanese Parliament elects Berri to fourth term

Lebanon's Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri vowed to protect and support the country's armed resistance group Hizbullah during his first address to Parliament following his re-election.

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In a keynote address likely to unnerve Washington and other Western powers seeking Hizbullah's disarmament, Berri said: "As long as Israel continues to occupy Lebanon and breach our sovereignty we will continue our policy of resistance. Lebanon's strength lies in its unity and its resistance."

Amid tight security the pro-Damascus Berri was re-elected to serve a record fourth term by the newly formed anti-Syrian Parliament. The historic session, which marks the first time Lebanon's legislature has been free of Syrian tutelage in almost three decades, elected Berri with 90 votes out of a possible 128.

Celebrations by Berri supporters in southern Beirut resulted in tragedy after a man was killed as armed factions fired their guns into the air. Two others were hospitalized after suffering wounds from stray bullets in southern Beirut and Ashrafieh.

Berri's Amal Movement received hundreds of phone calls demanding the shooting stop, according to security sources, who added the guns being used were unlicensed. Berri condemned the gunfire and called upon his supporters to stop.

Elsewhere Berri supporters waved Amal and Hizbullah flags in celebration.
Following his appointment Berri paid a protocol visit to President Emile Lahoud.

Despite being the sole candidate for the post, Berri received 36 spoiled ballots, or blank papers. One MP voted for MP Bassem Sabaa, a member of key opposition leader Walid Jumblatt's parliamentary bloc.

Former deputy speaker Michel Murr left parliament before voting started.

Among those who refused to vote for Berri were Lebanese Forces and Qornet Shehwan MPs along with Michel Aoun's Free Patriotic Movement and his Zahle allies.

Under Lebanon's confessional political system, the speaker must be a Shiite, the president a Christian and the prime minister a Sunni.

Despite fears about the international reaction to Berri's re-election the United Nations said it welcomed what it called "the democratic electoral process, whatever the outcome."

Speaking from New York, UN Spokesperson Farhan Haq told The Daily Star: "We trust this election comes out of a democratic process, and as long as that is the case we consider it a step forward to Lebanon."

A spokesperson for the U.S. Embassy said: "We congratulate the Parliament on its first session and we wish the MPs well in carrying out their job. We also look forward to the Parliament undertaking political and economic reforms."

During his address to Parliament Berri vowed to proceed with implementation of the Taif Accord, which stipulates political reforms leading to the foundation of a Senate next to Parliament.

Lebanon's next step is to appoint a new prime minister, after the president holds obligatory consultation with the MPs, which Berri said will start tomorrow.

There are three contenders for the premiership, including outgoing pro-Syrian Premier Najib Mikati, former Justice Minister Bahij Tabbara, and former Finance Minister Fouad Siniora.

Both Siniora and Tabbara were in Rafik Hariri's parliamentary bloc, and are considered close to his son, Beirut MP Saad Hariri.

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Beirut 29-06-2005
Leila Hatoum
The Daily Star

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