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Last Updated: Monday, 3 December 2007, 10:33 GMT
Lebanon leaders back army chief
Empty president's chair
The president's chair has been empty since Lahoud left office
Lebanon's parliamentary majority has backed a compromise candidate for president, raising hopes of an end to months of tense political deadlock.

The western-backed ruling bloc had initially rejected army chief Gen Michel Suleiman who has conditional support from the pro-Syrian opposition.

His election requires an amendment to the constitution to allow senior civil servants to take over the presidency.

The repeatedly postponed presidential vote is now scheduled for 7 December.

Lebanon has been without a head of state since 27 November as rival factions argued about a successor to the pro-Syrian incumbent, Emile Lahoud.

Gen Suleiman, 59, has held his post since 1998, when he was nominated by the outgoing Gen Lahoud.

Correspondents say he has remained neutral during the year-long political crisis and has repeatedly called on the army to keep out of politics.

Conditional support

In a televised statement, Amin Gemayel, leader of the right-wing Maronite Christian party, the Phalange, announced the governing coalition's support of Gen Suleiman's candidacy.

Lebanon's army chief Gen Michel Suleiman
Gen Suleiman has remained neutral in Lebanon's recent upheavals
The former opposition candidate for the job, Michel Aoun, had earlier lent his conditional support to Gen Suleiman's candidacy.

His conditions include the appointment of a neutral prime minister - something the governing coalition has previously rejected.

He also asked that Gen Suleiman step down at the 2009 parliamentary elections rather than serving a full term until 2013.

The Shia militant group Hezbollah said it would back Gen Suleiman on condition of Mr Aoun's endorsement.

This means most political groupings have now expressed support for him, but the BBC's Kim Ghattas in Beirut says there is no guarantee he will get the job.

Paralysis

Under the current constitution senior civil servants are barred from becoming president within two years of stepping down.

Analysts say the hope is now that the amendment can be passed without further another crisis breaking out.

The deadlock has paralysed Lebanon politically and economically since the devastating 2006 war between Hezbollah and Israel.

The constitution has been amended twice since 1998, first to allow Mr Lahoud to become president and again in 2004 to extend his term by three years.

That move sharply divided Lebanon into pro- and anti-Syrian camps, and months later Syrian troops withdrew from Lebanon amid huge protests after the assassination of former PM Rafik Hariri, who had recently joined the anti-Syrian side.

An amendment to Article 49 must now be approved by cabinet, which has been dominated by pro-westerners since six pro-Syrian ministers quit in November 2006.

Under Lebanon's sectarian power-sharing system, the country's president must be from the Maronite Christian minority.

The post of prime minister is always reserved for a Sunni Muslim, while that of parliament speaker goes to a Shia.

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