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Lebanon's President Asks Army to Take Over Country's Security


Lebanon's outgoing president, Emile Lahoud, has asked the army to take charge of security in the country, after members of parliament again failed to elect a successor, shortly before he left office at midnight. Failure to choose a successor leaves the country facing a political power vaccum, as Edward Yeranian reports for VOA from Beirut.

President Lahoud's spokesman, Rafiq Shalala, told reporters that the president was giving the army control of security matters to avoid any possible vacuum. He says, the president says Lebanon is facing the dangers of a state of emergency, and is instructing the army to maintain security.

A spokesman for Prime Minister Fuad Siniora said the government rejects Mr. Lahoud's order.

Meanwhile, Al Arabiya TV is reporting that the Army Commander, Gen. Michel Sleiman, has told a member of Mr. Siniora's Cabinet that he would continue to report to the government.

Earlier, Lebanese leaders failed to reach a last-ditch accord over a compromise candidate to replace outgoing President Lahoud, and agreed to postpone Friday's electoral session of parliament until November 30.

The decision to postpone the election for the fifth time in slightly more than a month has created a power vacuum, leaving Lebanon officially without a president for the second time in its history.

Druze Leader Walid Jumblatt, a key pillar of the pro-Western governing coalition, explained that he had conferred with Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, a member of the pro-Syrian Hezbollah-led opposition, and they agreed about postponing the electoral session, so as to preserve peace among Lebanon's rival parties.

He said the parliamentarians must stick to the principle of consensus and keep peace among the parties.

Most members of parliament from the pro-government March 14th majority were escorted to parliament at Beirut's Nejmeh Square, amid draconian security by specially trained police units. Army tanks were also positioned along many of Beirut's main arteries.

The French, Italian and Spanish foreign minister, as well as Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa have been in Beirut in recent days, helping to mediate.

In Washington, State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack urged Lebanon's political factions to maintain calm and promote security for Lebanon's citizens. He also urged them to continue talks aimed at electing a new president.

Deputy Speaker of Parliament Farid Makari, who belongs to the ruling March 14th coalition, scolded Hezbollah and its allies for opting to boycott Friday's electoral session. He said the boycott is not a democratic decision and is completely against the constitution.

The head of Hezbollah's parliamentary bloc insisted that many members of the pro-government alliance had collaborated with Israel when it invaded Lebanon in 1982, and were not concerned then about following constitutional norms.

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