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Last Updated: Monday, 13 June, 2005, 13:04 GMT 14:04 UK
Big poll win for Lebanon ex-chief
Lebanese voters
Many voters wore orange to show their support for Aoun's campaign
Lebanon's firebrand Christian leader and ex-army chief, Michel Aoun, has won a huge victory in the third round of parliamentary elections, results show.

Mr Aoun, a long-term critic of Syria, demanded the issue of Syrian influence in Lebanon be put aside and allied himself with pro-Syria candidates.

The vote is the first in 30 years to be held without Syrian troops in Lebanon.

Mr Aoun's victory is a blow to the main anti-Syrian opposition, which could now be denied a majority in the parliament.

The task of charting Lebanon's new political course after the crisis sparked by the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri may now be more difficult, correspondents say.

Candidates backed by Mr Aoun defeated rival Christian politicians to secure 15 of the 16 seats being contested in the Maronite Christian area, north-east of Beirut.

The latest poll decides almost half of the seats in the new parliament - 58 out of a total of 128. Turnout was around 50% - higher than in past polls.

Complicated task

One of the leaders of the main anti-Syrian opposition, Walid Jumblatt, conceded earlier that Mr Aoun had prevailed in the latest stage of voting.

"I acknowledge that he won," said Mr Jumblatt, who was himself re-elected unopposed.

HAVE YOUR SAY
Aoun's victory will suppress the controversy that emerged on Rafik Hariri's assassination
Shib SenChaudhury, India

"The Christian extremists have vanquished the moderates," he said.

He accused Mr Aoun, who recently returned from 14 years of exile after being forced out by Damascus, of serving Syrian interests.

"They brought Aoun back to use him as an instrument of tension among the Christians," said Mr Jumblatt.

Mr Aoun, who as prime minister in the late 1980s led a campaign to expel Syrian troops, has allied himself with pro-Syrian candidates from the Druze community.

Commenting on the initial results, Mr Aoun said he would be willing to talk to other factions in the new parliament.

BIOGRAPHY: MICHEL AOUN
Michel Aoun voting
1935: Born in Beirut
1958: Graduates as army artillery officer
1984: Promoted to commander in chief of the armed forces
September 1988: Appointed head of interim government. Vows to expel Syrian troops
November 1989: Refuses to step down as interim prime minister after being sacked by president
October 1990: Aoun loyalists defeated by Syrian troops. Aoun negotiates ceasefire after taking refuge in French Embassy
August 1991: Granted amnesty by government and offered asylum in France
1999: Allowed to return home but is dissuaded by Syrian military presence
May 2005: Returns to Beirut after 14 years in exile

He said he would work for a new election law, shorten parliament's four-year term and tackle corruption.

The two previous rounds saw pro- and anti-Syrian candidates win almost an equal number of seats.

In this latest round, candidates backed by the pro-Syrian Islamic movement Hezbollah are reported to have done well in Shia Muslim areas.

Sectarian seats

Syria was forced to pull out its army from Lebanon following massive international pressure after the assassination of Hariri in February.

His killing was blamed on Syria. Damascus denied the allegation.

Seats in the country's parliament are divided equally between Christians and Muslims, even though Christians represent less than half of the Lebanese population.

Within each religion, seats are also allocated to each sect, from Greek Orthodox to Sunnis and Druze.

Lebanon's president is always a Maronite Christian, the only non-Muslim head of state in the Arab world.

Next Sunday, the final round of voting takes place in north Lebanon.


BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
See Lebanese voters casting their ballots



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