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Lebanese Vote to Elect New Parliament

Voter turnout is being described as "heavy" across much of Lebanon as citizens turn out to vote for a new parliament. Local television stations are reporting few incidents of violence in a country marred by a history of sectarian conflict.

Voters lined up outside polling stations across Lebanon, from Chekka in the north to Marjayoun in the south. Local television stations spent the day reporting voter turnout percentages from each electoral district and by most accounts, turnout was unusually high.

Lebanese police kept vigil outside of polling places, as young people from various parties waved flags, donned party tee-shirts and urged voters to vote for one side or the other.

Inside polling stations, voters marked their paper ballots behind closed curtains, before dropping them into an opaque plastic box. Civil servants overseeing the election then daubed voters' thumbs with indelible ink to prevent anyone from voting twice.

The outcome of the electoral battle between the ruling pro-Western March 14th movement and the pro-Syrian Hezbollah appears to hinge on voter sentiment in mostly Christian districts north of Beirut.

An unusual alliance between former Army Commander Michel Aoun, the pro-Syrian Hezbollah and a powerful Armenian faction could tip the balance in favor of Hezbollah.

Aoun quipped to journalists in his usual feisty tone that he thought the election would "put an stop to four years of political quarrels" and end what he called the "odd state of affairs in the country."

Hezbollah's Manar TV played a patriotic jingle to urge voters to side with what it calls the "resistance," in reference to its steadfast military opposition to Israel.

Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, a Hezbollah ally, told reporters the election is a referendum of support for Hezbollah and its political strategy.

He says that today's vote is a referendum to support the (Hezbollah-led) resistance, and its political views, in addition to supporting national unity and liberation of Lebanese territory.

The head of Lebanon's pro-Western March 14th parliamentary majority, Saad Hariri, son of slain former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, urged everyone to vote.

He calls on God to protect Lebanon's democracy and to make it thrive. All Lebanese, he says, should vote for whom they please, because (democracy) is not something many other peoples around the world enjoy.

Dory Chamoun, who heads Lebanon's National Liberal Party, an ally of Hariri, says that the election appears trouble-free and that he thinks the Pro-Western alliance has a slight edge.

"Generally speaking, it is going on quite well," Chamoun said. " I have not heard of any major trouble, which is already a very good sign. On the whole, the percentage of voters is very high, nearly all over Lebanon, something that we have not seen for a very long time. But, the atmosphere is good, and as far as we are concerned, I think we will have a slight edge."

Results of Sunday's parliamentary election, the first since 2005, will not be officially published until Monday. Many analysts are expecting a close vote that will result in some form of coalition government.

President Michael Suleiman, who is expected to win the support of unaffiliated members of parliament could tip the balance in favor of one side or the other. After casting his ballot,
Mr. Suleiman urged politicians to "tone down their political squabbles" and help to "improve the state of the country."