Siniora assures Lebanese, Cabinet takes powers

A03545845.jpgLebanese Prime Minister Fuad Siniora assured his country on Saturday there was no cause for alarm and said his Cabinet was assuming executive powers in the absence of a president for the first time in nine years.Siniora and his anti-Syrian allies said their aim was to see presidential election held as soon as possible. The opposition, led by the Hizbollah, says it too wants a quick election, as long as there is a consensus candidate.

Emile Lahoud’s presidency expired at midnight on Friday, shortly after parliament failed to elect a successor acceptable to both the majority and the opposition.

The dispute reflects the regional conflict between the United States and its allies on one side and the alliance between Syria, Iran and Hizbollah on the other.

The political void had no impact on the streets of Beirut, where shops and cafes opened and traffic circulated freely.

“When the presidency is vacant, the powers of the presidency devolve to the Cabinet… which is the legitimate and constitutional Cabinet,” Siniora told a news conference after meeting the Maronite Christian Patriarch Nasrallah Sfeir.

“There is nothing to worry about… Our natural concern is to work on how to… complete the presidential election.” But the opposition says the country no longer has any recognised executive. It has considered the government illegitimate since pro-Syrian ministers resigned last year.

“Our position on the illegitimacy of the government has not changed,” said member of parliament Ali Hassan Khalil, an aide to Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri.

“The way out is to quickly elect a new president who will preserve security and law and order,” Khalil told Reuters.

Anti-Syrian majority leader Saad Hariri said in a statement: “I pledge to all Lebanese… to work with the utmost effort to set matters right and to arrive at the election of a new president for the republic in the fastest possible time.”

Hariri, who accuses Syria of assassinating his father, former prime minister Rafiq Hariri, in 2005, said most Lebanese were jubilant at the end of the Lahoud era, which he called “the symbol of Syrian patronage over government”.

‘Positive developments’

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, who led mediations in the dispute much of last week, told a news conference in Paris he expected positive developments in the next few days.

“I hope… that in the coming week a solution will be proposed that will make it possible to have appeasement, a new government, development,” he said, but did not elaborate.

“I am not sure that there are periods of tension coming.

Perhaps some small incidents but I do not believe that there will be very serious tension,” Kouchner added.

Before relinquishing the presidency, Lahoud ordered the army to take charge of security, saying the country ran a risk of descending into a state of emergency.

But Siniora said there was no state of emergency and the army had been carrying out its duties for a long time.

When parliament failed on Friday to elect a president before Lahoud’s term ended, Berri postponed the vote for the fifth time and set November 30 as the date for another attempt.

The delay means the presidency, always held by a Maronite Christian under Lebanon’s sectarian power-sharing system, will be vacant for at least a week.

Key members of the majority, including Hariri, kept the political temperature down on Friday by saying they remained in favour of finding a consensus candidate for the presidency.

But the group has also said it may elect a president outside parliament using its absolute majority, a move the opposition says would be tantamount to a coup because the vote would not take place in parliament or with a two-thirds quorum.

Christian leader Samir Geagea, a prominent member of the ruling coalition known as March 14, said the majority reserved the right to use that option.

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