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Page last updated at 17:46 GMT, Monday, 8 June 2009 18:46 UK

Lebanon confirms Hariri election win

Supporters of 14 March coalition
Many 14 March supporters had feared a victory by long-marginalised Shias

Official results released a day after Lebanon's hotly-contested parliamentary election have confirmed the pro-Western coalition has held on to its majority.

Interior Minister Ziad Baroud confirmed the 14 March coalition of Saad Hariri had won 71 seats in the 128-member body, one more than four years ago.

Hassan Nasrallah, head of militant movement Hezbollah, said he accepted the outcome.

US President Barack Obama praised the election and welcomed the result.

Mr Baroud said voting passed off satisfactorily, despite some organisational problems.

Security has been tightened and political leaders appealed for calm throughout Lebanon, which last year witnessed pitched battles between rival factions.

A possible victory for Hezbollah, which is supported by Syria and Iran, had caused jitters among Western governments, and the US was threatening to withdraw its aid package to Lebanon.

But Hassan Nasrallah said he accepted the outcome - in which the Hezbollah-led bloc won 58 seats.

"I would like to congratulate all those who won, those in the majority and those in the opposition," he said.

Mr Obama said in a statement: "It is our sincere hope that the next government will continue along the path towards building a sovereign, independent and stable Lebanon."

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 (Sunni); Progressive Socialists (Druze); Lebanese Forces (Maronite); Phalange (Maronite)
- Opposition list: Hezbollah (Shia); Amal (Shia); Free Patriotic Movement (Maronite)

He went on the warn: "Government of the people and by the people sets a single standard for all who hold power: you must maintain your power through consent, not coercion."

The turnout was 54%, Mr Baroud said, the highest percentage among Lebanon's three million voters since the 1975-91 civil war.

The campaign was marred by mud-slinging and accusations that large numbers of expatriate Lebanese were flown home for free to cast votes.

But former US President Jimmy Carter, who led a team of international observers, said he was encouraged by the way the election had been conducted and the response of politicians from all sides.

"The most important thing is to commend the people of Lebanon and the election authorities for a successful demonstration of the right of the people to express their will. They did it legally and properly, and one of the tests of a successful election is a rapid acceptance of the results," Mr Carter said.

Lebanon is a country of deeply-fragmented religious sects, and this election broadly pitted Shia Muslim supporters of Hezbollah against Sunni Muslims and Druze supporting the 14 March coalition.

The crucial electoral showdown had been between Christian rivals, who although they make up only one-third of the population are constitutionally guaranteed an equal half share of parliamentary seats.

The influential Christian Maronite community was split between established Western-orientated factions and the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) of former army chief Michel Aoun, which joined the pro-Syria faction in 2006.

As predicted, Hezbollah and its smaller Shia ally Amal swept the vote in Lebanon's mainly Shia areas, but the FPM lost in the key districts of Zahleh and Beirut First.

Deadlock

After years of Syrian domination of its small neighbour, underpinned by a large military presence, 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.

Hariri: 'The biggest victor is Lebanon'

Popular discontent after that attack had forced Syria to withdraw its troops amid accusations of its involvement in the killing. The government in Damascus has strongly denied the claims.

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

The following year parliament became deadlocked over filling the vacant presidency - and a unity government was only re-formed after the country teetered on the brink of full-scale civil war in May 2008.

Analysts say another fragile unity government is likely from this result.

A major division looks set to remain 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.

Hezbollah will demand that it retain a veto-wielding share of cabinet seats which it secured in last year's unity talks.



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