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Lebanon awaits presidential candidate list - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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Lebanese employees and shop owners carry banners as they protest their plight and seek government compensation in downtown Beirut, Lebanon, Nov. 13, 2007 (AP)

Lebanese employees and shop owners carry banners as they protest their plight and seek government compensation in downtown Beirut, Lebanon, Nov. 13, 2007 (AP)

BEIRUT (AFP) – Lebanon’s political leaders were waiting on Wednesday for the powerful Maronite cardinal to name presidential candidates amid a flurry of diplomatic efforts to break a damaging political deadlock.

Cardinal Nasrallah Sfeir, who heads the largest Christian community from which presidents are traditionally chosen, is expected to name up to six candidates before a fast-approaching November 23 deadline.

Western dignitaries were pouring into Lebanon as fears ran high that the long-running political row could lead to a return to the final years of the 1975-1990 civil war when two competing administrations battled for control.

Parliament speaker Nabih Berri has already called off a special session for MPs to elect a new president three times, amid a failure of the Western-backed ruling majority and the pro-Syrian opposition to find a compromise candidate.

And there are fears a last-ditch parliament session set for November 21 to choose a successor to Damascus-backed incumbent President Emile Lahoud could also end in failure.

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, whose country is leading a Western-backed initiative to end the impasse, held talks in Beirut on Tuesday, while UN chief Ban Ki-moon was due to visit Lebanon on Thursday.

Italian Foreign Minister Massimo D’Alema and Arab League secretary general Amr Moussa are also expected to visit the country in the next few days, according to Beirut newspapers.

Kouchner left Beirut on Tuesday cautiously optimistic about a resolution to the crisis and said Sfeir was due to draft a list of potential presidential candidates within 48 hours.

He said parliamentary majority leader Saad Hariri and Berri, a leading opposition figure, would select “with sincerity and courage” the person to win the top job.

A source at the Maronite patriarchate said he did not know when Sfeir may present the list.

“We are confident that the cardinal will present a list, but we will have to wait and see to know if the process will actually work,” a prominent member of the ruling majority told AFP.

“It is an attempt to reach an accord, we are still at the start of the process,” he said on condition of anonymity.

The list is expected to be submitted to Berri and Hariri who would then select two or three names to be proposed at the November 21 parliament session.

Newspapers said the cardinal’s list includes prominent ruling majority figures Nassib Lahoud and MP Butros Harb as well as opposition leader Michel Aoun and two or three independent figures.

Al-Akhbar newspaper said there were fears that “if the French initiative fails, the ruling majority may elect a new president with a simple majority.”

The opposition has declared that it would not accept or recognise a president elected by a simple majority, triggering fears that the country would be further divided and emerge with two parallel governments.

International efforts seem to have succeeded in persuading Sfeir to draw up a list of candidates despite his desire to avoid repeating a failed experience dating back to the last years of the civil war.

In 1988, Sfeir tried to break a similar presidential deadlock by naming five candidates, but his list was rejected by powerful neighbour Syria which settled the dispute with a military assault on the presidential palace two years later.

Lebanon has been mired in political crisis, with pro- and anti-Syrian camps engaged in a power struggle since the 2005 assassination of Saad Hariri’s father, former billionaire prime minister Rafiq Hariri.

Hariri’s murder triggered international and domestic protests that forced Syria to end 29 years of military domination in Lebanon.

The Western-backed government has been paralysed since the opposition, which includes factions backed by Syria and Iran, withdrew its six ministers from the cabinet in November last year.

Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Boutros Sfeir (R) meets with French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner in Bkerki, north of Beirut, 13 November 2007 (AFP)

Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Boutros Sfeir (R) meets with French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner in Bkerki, north of Beirut, 13 November 2007 (AFP)

France's Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner arrives for talks with Lebanon's Parliament majority leader Saad al-Hariri in Beirut November 13, 2007 (REUTERS)

France’s Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner arrives for talks with Lebanon’s Parliament majority leader Saad al-Hariri in Beirut November 13, 2007 (REUTERS)

Asharq Al-Awsat

Asharq Al-Awsat

Asharq Al-Awsat is the world’s premier pan-Arab daily newspaper, printed simultaneously each day on four continents in 14 cities. Launched in London in 1978, Asharq Al-Awsat has established itself as the decisive publication on pan-Arab and international affairs, offering its readers in-depth analysis and exclusive editorials, as well as the most comprehensive coverage of the entire Arab world.

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