|Lebanese women watch from their balcony as Hezbollah supporters pass by in Nabattiyeh, southern Lebanon|
In the second stage of Lebanon's parliamentary elections, a pro-Syrian coalition, led by the militant group, Hezbollah, won all 23 seats at stake in the southern region where voting was held Sunday. The results in the south were in stark contrast to the result of the previous Sunday's voting in Beirut, where a ticket headed by the anti-Syrian opposition parties swept all the seats at stake in and around the capital.
Interior Minister Hassan Sabaa says the pro-Syrian, anti-Israel Hezbollah-Amal joint ticket has taken all 23 parliamentary seats for southern Lebanon. The group gained six unchallenged seats before the polls opened on Sunday, and Minister Sabaa says the final 17 seats for the region also went to the pro-Syrian coalition.
Hezbollah and Amal supporters claimed the victory within hours of the polls closing. Celebrations took place in downtown Beirut Sunday night, with supporters waving the bright yellow and green flags of Hezbollah and the green, red and white flags of the Amal movement from car windows, while fireworks went off overhead.
Hezbollah, designated as a terrorist organization by the United States, Canada and Israel, says the vote provides support for the organization to hold onto its weapons, despite a United Nations resolution, which calls on the group to disarm.
The four-stage election by region comes four months after the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, which triggered protests that forced the Beirut government to quit and Syrian forces to leave Lebanon. An anti-Syrian grouping led by Mr. Hariri's son swept the seats in Beirut in voting last week.
Parliamentary speaker and leader of the Amal movement, Nabih Berri, told a news conference Monday the strong support at the polls lends the groups legitimacy.
Mr. Berri says the coalition in the south is strongly supported in its efforts as a resistance force against neighboring Israel.
The results of the vote come on the anniversary of Israel's invasion of Lebanon in 1982.
A spokesman for Israel's Foreign Ministry says Israel is alarmed by the outcome of the vote. Sporadic fighting between Israel and forces in Lebanon along the disputed border regions continues.
Lebanese Interior Ministry official Bassam Bou Zeid said 45 percent of the more than 650,000 registered voters in the south cast their ballots Sunday. The third and most contested round of the parliamentary elections will take place on June 12.