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French envoy in Lebanon as election set for delay | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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BEIRUT, (Reuters) – A parliamentary session to elect a new Lebanese president on Monday is likely to be delayed to give rival leaders more time to agree on a compromise candidate, a senior Lebanese political source said on Friday.

A French envoy arrived in Beirut in what the source said was a last-ditch effort to help resolve the standoff over a replacement for pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud before his term expires on Nov. 23. Any Lebanese fear a failure to reach a deal over the presidency could lead to two rival governments and bloodshed. Several names have emerged as possible compromise candidates but there is no clear front-runner.

Delayed twice already, parliament was set to vote on Monday but the source told Reuters the session would “probably be delayed”.

Envoy Claude Gueant, French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s chief of staff, held talks with Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, whose U.S.-backed government is opposed by factions including Hezbollah, which is supported by Syria and Iran.

“French President Nicolas Sarkozy has strong ties with the Lebanese people and he cannot stand by helplessly watching Lebanon being afflicted with crises,” Gueant said upon his arrival in Beirut.

In a meeting with Sarkozy this week, U.S. President George W. Bush said he backed the French president’s efforts to bring about a democratic election before Lahoud’s term expires.

Gueant, who is expected to hold talks with several politicians and religious figures, said French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner would also visit Lebanon next week.

Opposition MPs first boycotted a parliament session in September to prevent the required two-thirds quorum.

Leading members of the governing coalition have said their MPs, who have a slim parliamentary majority, have the right to gather in Lahoud’s final 10 days in power to elect a president without the two-thirds quorum. Hezbollah has said such a move would be tantamount to a coup.

Gueant and Sarkozy’s top diplomatic adviser, Jean-David Levitte met Syrian President Bashar al-Assad earlier this week, the highest ranking French officials to visit Syria since the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese premier Rafik al-Hariri.

Leading anti-Syrian figures blame Syria for the killing.

France has been a vocal Western critic of Syria’s alleged meddling in Lebanon’s affairs. Syria denies both accusations and says stability in neighbouring Lebanon is in its interest.