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    UN Calls for Free and Fair Elections in Lebanon

    The United Nations Security Council is calling for free and fair presidential elections in Lebanon without foreign interference. From VOA's New York Bureau, Mona Ghuneim reports.

    The Council said Monday that under a 2004 UN resolution Lebanon should hold presidential elections in the timeframe defined by the constitution.

    US Ambassador to the United Nations Zalmay Khalilzad says the Lebanese presidential election must take place in accordance with UN Resolution 15-59 and without any interference from abroad.

    "It's our view that any effort to destabilize Lebanon from any regional state must be condemned," said Zalmay Khalilzad. "There has to be a strong president elected so that Lebanon can move forward in becoming a functioning democracy."

    Outgoing pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud ends his term on November 24 and the United Nations is urging that elections take place before then.

    Khalilzad says there are concerns that Mr. Lahoud might refuse to leave office or that an illegitimate separate government could form. He says the Council worried about the possibility of two rival governments in power but did not discuss that possibility in its Monday's session.

    UN Special Envoy Terje Roed-Larsen says he will not speculate on "what if" scenarios right now. But, he says, it would "not [be] good news" for Lebanon or the region if elections did not occur or if two governments formed.

    "I do hope that all key players here will act responsibly and see that indeed elections do take place in a timely manner, and free and fair," said Terje Roed-Larsen.

    President Bush urged Syria last month to stay out of Lebanese elections, and European foreign ministers were in Beirut to try to negotiate an end to Lebanon's political deadlock.

    Lebanon twice postponed the election to give the Western-backed majority and Iran and Syrian-supported opposition groups more time to agree on a candidate.

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