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UN Secretary-General Urges Lebanese Leaders to Elect New President

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is urging Lebanon's top leaders to put aside their differences and hold a free presidential election before November 24. Outgoing president Emile Lahoud's term expires at midnight on November 23. Edward Yeranian reports for the VOA from Beirut.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is holding talks with Lebanese leaders for a second day Friday in a bid to secure an agreement that presidential elections are held as scheduled by parliament on November 21.

Ban urged Lebanese politicians to hold elections next week, following two attempts since October by parliament to do so.

"It is imperative that the parliament convenes in order to elect the new president," he said. "This president must be committed to the Taef constitutional accord, the constitution and international legitimacy."

The Lebanese media has been increasingly skeptical that parliament will meet before the term of outgoing President Emile Lahoud ends, evoking the possibility of two rival governments being formed by Lebanon's warring camps.

Ban met with Lebanon's Maronite Christian Patriarch Nasrallah Butros Sfeir Friday morning, throwing his support behind the leader of the country's largest Christian sect. This is seen as a bid to come up with a list potential candidates that would be acceptable to both the governing March 14 coalition, a group of Sunni, Druse and Christian leaders that is allied with the West, and the Hezbollah-led opposition.

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner urged the Patriarch to draw up such a list, while visiting, earlier this week, despite the his reluctance.

Ban Ki Moon says the political situation in Lebanon is "complex" and is calling for "free and fair elections without outside pressure or meddling."

The pro-Syrian Hezbollah, which is spearheading the opposition says that it has handed the name of its choice for president to Patriarch Sfeir, last night. Beirut's An Nahar newspaper says that former Army Commander Michel Aoun is Hezbollah's choice.

General Aoun, for his part, blasted the United States, saying that he opposes U.S. policy in Lebanon, for allegedly trying to block his candidacy for president.

Ibrahim Kena'an, a member of parliament close to the general, says that Mr. Aoun told Ban Ki Moon that he is hoping for a negotiated political solution:

"We are committed to this presidential election," he said. "We would like to see Lebanon out of this crisis and we would like to see a national consensus."

Ban has also met with pro-government parliamentary majority leader Sa'ad Hariri, and the opposition parliament speaker Nabih Berri and Druze leader Walid Jumblatt.