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Last Updated: Saturday, 29 December 2007, 01:49 GMT
Lebanon delays vote for 11th time
Nabih Berri (file)
Nabih Berri said the constitution did not need to be amended
The speaker of the Lebanese parliament, Nabih Berri, has postponed for the 11th time the election of a new president.

A parliamentary session had been due to take place later on Saturday, but has now been delayed until 12 January.

The presidency has been vacant since 23 November, when Emile Lahoud's term ended without a successor being named.

The pro-Western ruling majority and pro-Syrian opposition have agreed on a compromise candidate, but are divided on the make-up of the new government.

They are also yet to finalise how to amend the constitution to allow the candidate, armed forces chief Gen Michel Suleiman, to be elected.

Under Article 49 of the Lebanese constitution, senior civil servants are barred from becoming president within two years of stepping down.

'Comprehensive agreement'

However, the statement issued by Mr Berri, leader of the Shia opposition Amal movement, said he believed it was not necessary to amend the constitution to elect Gen Suleiman.

There is no possibility of holding the presidential election in Lebanon without an agreement on the formation of a national unity government
Hussein al-Hajj Hassan
Hezbollah MP

According to his interpretation, Article 74 of the constitution stipulates that "in case of a presidential vacancy... parliament meets immediately to elect a new president, which excludes the [need for] amendment".

On Thursday, 13 MPs from the ruling majority submitted a petition seeking a "one-off" constitutional amendment to enable the Gen Suleiman's election, as was done in 1998 for Mr Lahoud, his predecessor as military chief.

Mr Berri had earlier rejected a draft law on the amendment proposed by Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, saying he would not accept legislation from a government he considered illegitimate.

Troops outside the Lebanese parliament in Beirut (file)
The Lebanese parliament has delayed the vote since September

The parliament has failed to elect a president since 25 September because the opposition has boycotted the sessions, ensuring the vote would not have the two-thirds quorum required. A two-thirds majority is also needed.

Hezbollah have said there will not be an election unless the ruling majority agree to a "comprehensive political agreement" with the opposition, including a guarantee of veto power over major decisions.

"There is no possibility of holding the presidential election in Lebanon without an agreement on the formation of a national unity government," Hezbollah MP Hussein al-Hajj Hassan said in a statement on Friday.

The deadlock over the president is Lebanon's worst political crisis since the country's long civil war ended in 1990.

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