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Page last updated at 09:58 GMT, Monday, 8 June 2009 10:58 UK

Lebanon's Hariri-led bloc claims election

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Supporters of the 14 March alliance take to the streets to celebrate

The leader of Lebanon's governing pro-Western coalition has claimed victory over a Hezbollah-led bloc in the country's parliamentary election.

Saad Hariri said his 14 March alliance would retain its majority in the 128-seat parliament.

A key Christian ally of the Hezbollah-led alliance, which is supported by Syria and Iran, admitted defeat in Sunday's elections.

Official results are due later on Monday. Turnout was more than 50%.

"Congratulations to you, congratulations to freedom, congratulations to democracy," Mr Hariri told a crowd of his cheering supporters in the capital Beirut.

Saad Hariri in Beirut. Photo: 7 June 2009
Saad Hariri said "the only winner is democracy in Lebanon"

"There is no winner and loser in these elections, the only winner is democracy and Lebanon," he added.

Mr Hariri's coalition was expected to win 70 or 71 seats in the new assembly, while the Hezbollah alliance would get 58 seats, Lebanese media predicted.

That would almost exactly replicate the balance which existed in the last parliament.

The US, which had feared a possible Hezbollah-led bloc's victory, will now be heaving a sigh of relief, the BBC's Jim Muir in Beirut says.

However, analysts predicted that the result would bring another period of political and inter-factional deadlock which has dominated the last four years.

Christian vote

Interior Minister Ziad Baroud said turnout had exceeded that of the 2005 election and was "unheard of in the history of Lebanese elections".

LEBANON ELECTIONS KEY FACTS
128-seat, divided along sectarian and communal lines - 64 for Muslims and 64 for Christians
MPs elected for four-year terms
Voting age 21 years
Main factions
- 14 March Coalition: Future movement; Progressive Socialist Party; Christian Lebanese Forces; Christian Phalangist party.
- 8 March Coalition: Hezbollah; Amal movement headed by the parliamentary Speaker Nabih Birri; Free Patriotic Movement of Gen Michel Aoun.

Some three million people were eligible to cast ballots.

Voting was reported to have been trouble-free across the country, although there have been many reports of vote-buying and large numbers of expatriates being flown home for free to cast votes.

Under Lebanon's power-sharing system, seats in the 128-member parliament are split equally between the Muslim population and minority Christians, who make up an estimated one-third of Lebanese voters, with further sub-divisions for various religious sects.

Analysts had predicted that the result would depend on inter-Christian races in a few key constituencies.

Although the official results have yet to be announced in full, the Christian vote was believed to be split evenly between the two camps.

Hezbollah fielded only 11 candidates, though it is a powerful member of the broader opposition coalition, with Gen Michel Aoun's group and the mainstream Shia movement Amal.

The pro-Western bloc was swept to power in 2005, following the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in a car bombing in Beirut.

Popular discontent after that attack forced Syria to withdraw its troops from Lebanon, after a 29-year presence, amid accusations of Syrian involvement. The government in Damascus has strongly denied the claims.

The post-2005 unity coalition collapsed in November 2006, with the resignation of all six pro-Syrian ministers, stripping it of representation by Lebanon's largest confessional group, the Shia Muslims.

Parliament was unable to agree on a president and a unity government was only re-formed in May 2008 after the country teetered on the brink of full-scale civil war.

A major division has been over Hezbollah's powerful guerrilla army, which pro-Western elements accuse of disrupting Lebanese stability but which Hezbollah supporters say is vital to resist the threat from Israel.


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