BEIRUT,(Reuters) – Lebanon’s top Maronite Christian cleric on Tuesday joined calls for the removal of pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud, who has previously refused to resign.
An anti-Syrian bloc that dominates government and parliament launched a campaign last week to oust Lahoud by March 14 to complete Lebanon’s emergence from Syria’s shadow.
Maronite Cardinal Nasrallah Sfeir appeared to throw his considerable influence behind the effort, delivering his most scathing attack against Lahoud to date.
“If the president is unable to run things it means that his position is almost vacant,” he told Lebanon’s daily As-Safir.
“When we see that international powers do not recognise him…and people in general do not count on him in running the country, the outcome becomes clear.”
Sfeir, however, reiterated that Lahoud’s impeachment should be done constitutionally and not through a popular revolt. The constitution lists high treason or breaching the constitution as grounds for impeachment. Lahoud says he is guilty of neither.
Sfeir has previously insisted that Lebanon’s multi-sectarian parliament to choose a succesor before removing Lahoud.
“God willing we may be done with this issue before the (March 14) deadline,” Christian leader Samir Geagea. He did not say how Lahoud could be forced out, but did not rule out street protests or agreement with pro-Syrian parties to get the two-thirds parliamentary majority needed to impeach him.
The assassination a year ago of former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri changed Lebanon’s political landscape, with street protests forcing Syria to bow to international pressure and end three decades of military presence in April.
The Christian, Sunni Muslim and Druze coalition that had demanded that Syria withdraw and Lahoud resign won mid-year elections, but the president, a former army commander, has vowed to stay until his term expires in November 2007.
“There is one ‘small matter’ that is left over from the previous regime. I have nothing against Emile Lahoud but the whole thing is not reasonable: a whole regime was changed, how can we keep a part of it?” Geagea was quoted as saying.
The extension of Lahoud’s term by three years in 2004 at Syria’s behest plunged Lebanon into political turmoil and set Damascus on a collision course with the international community.
A U.N. inquiry into Hariri’s killing has implicated senior Syrian officials and their Lebanese allies, including four security chiefs loyal to Lahoud. They have all denied any role.
Lebanon’s president, elected by parliament, is always a Maronite. Though not as powerful as before reforms agreed at the end of the 1975-1990 civil war, the head of state still has significant political and military prerogatives.