Ruling coalition blasts Hizbollah over presidency

Lebanon’s Western-backed ruling coalition on Monday accused the pro-Syrian opposition party Hizbollah of obstructing initiatives to resolve a crisis over the looming presidential election.Ruling coalition members harshly criticised a speech on Sunday by Hizbollah chief Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah who called on pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud to adopt a “salvation” measure before the end of his term on November 24.

Lahoud has warned that if no consensus candidate is found for the top job, he may name a parallel government – a reminder of the last years of Lebanon’s 1975-1990 civil war when two competing administrations battled for control.

“It is a coup d’etat, it is clearly aimed at planting discord and foiling all attempts to resolve” the crisis, Sports and Youth Minister Ahmad Fatfat told AFP.

“It is a call for the formation of a parallel government in order to create a real confrontation,” he said. He said Nasrallah’s speech was “Syria’s message in response to the French initiative”.

Deputy Parliamentary Speaker Farid Makari charged that Nasrallah was “seeking to foil… the French initiative ahead of the arrival of French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner”.

Kouchner was due in Beirut later Monday for a 24-hour visit aimed at helping to resolve the crisis over the presidency.

In a fiery speech late Sunday, Nasrallah called on Lahoud “to adopt an initiative to prevent the country from falling into a vacuum if there is no agreement” on a new president. Opposition leader and Parliamentary Speaker Nabih Berri on Saturday postponed until November 21, for a third time, a special session to elect a new president.

The parliamentary majority, with 68 MPs in the 127-seat house, has threatened to go ahead on its own with a presidential vote if no consensus candidate is found. Nasrallah warned that the opposition would not recognise a president unless he was elected by two-thirds of MPs.

Meanwhile, a French peacekeeper was killed and another wounded in a shooting accident in south Lebanon on Monday, the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) said.

UNIFIL spokeswoman Yasmina Bouziane said in a statement the two soldiers suffered gunshot injuries in an “accidental discharge of a weapon” at a peacekeeping base. One soldier died as he was being evacuated by helicopter to a hospital in the port city of Sidon.

Bouziane said the second soldier suffered moderate wounds and was in stable condition. The incident was under investigation, she added.

UNIFIL was expanded after last year’s war between Israel and Lebanon. Some 13,500 peacekeepers from 27 countries patrol south Lebanon and include a naval force that patrols the Lebanese coast.

The latest death brought to 268 the number of fatalities suffered by UNIFIL since the force first deployed in south Lebanon in 1978.

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