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Last Updated: Monday, 30 May, 2005, 11:09 GMT 12:09 UK
Opposition triumph in Beirut poll
By Jim Muir
BBC News, Beirut

Saad Hariri
Saad Hariri obtained the highest number of votes
Lebanon's anti-Syrian alliance has swept the board in the first round of general elections, officials say.

Amidst a low turnout, the coalition headed by the son of murdered former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri took all 19 seats in the capital Beirut.

Pro-Syrian Shia groups are tipped to fare better in next Sunday's second round of voting in the south.

But the country-wide result is expected to see a big parliamentary majority for Syria's opponents.

Voter apathy

Announcing the official results, the interior minister confirmed that the list headed by Saad Hariri had easily captured all 10 of the contested Beirut seats.

The other nine seats in the capital had already been won by default before the voting even began.

Mr Hariri himself won the highest personal score of votes.

But this was not the ringing endorsement that the anti-Syrian alliance had been looking for.

The turnout, at about 27%, was lower than in the last elections - when Syrian troops were still around and Syrian influence was still strong.

Voter apathy was clearly a factor, with many people feeling that the results had been stitched up in advance.

The same factors also prompted boycott calls by former General Michel Aoun, who fought the Syrians in the late 1980s, and by one of the big Armenian parties.

But the minister said the elections had passed off completely peacefully, except for one small fracas between supporters of rival parties.

That is one of the major achievements of this process - left to their own devices following the Syrian troop withdrawal last month, the Lebanese have steered away from violence as a way of settling their differences.

The minister said he hoped the mentality of war was finished for good.

But the low turnout carried a clear message of public dissatisfaction with a highly sectarian political system which allows the clan and factional leaders to strike deals and alliances which leave voters with few real choices.


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