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Lebanese Parliament Postpones Presidential Election Again

Lebanese leaders and members of parliament have agreed to postpone Friday's scheduled session of parliament for a fifth time, leaving the country, at midnight, without a president. Edward Yeranian reports for the VOA from Beirut.

After failing to reach a last-minute accord over a compromise candidate to replace outgoing President Emile Lahoud, Lebanese leaders 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 leaves Lebanon officially without a president as of midnight.

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 between 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 14 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.

Few Lebanese were surprised by the decision to postpone parliament's electoral session, because French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, who has been mediating between feuding Lebanese politicians, said on Thursday that it would, in his words, take a miracle for an election to occur Friday.

Italian Foreign Minister Massemo d'Alema, Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel-Ange Moratinos and Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa have also been in Beirut in recent days, helping to mediate.

Deputy Speaker of Parliament Farid Makari, who belongs to the ruling March 14th coalition, scolded the Hezbollah and its allies for opting to boycott Friday's electoral session.

He said the boycott by Hezbollah and its allies is not a democratic decision and is completely against the constitution, which stipulates the election of a president, with no right to boycott or postpone.

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.

Outgoing president Lahoud is a Maronite Christian, as the constitution requires, and he is pro-Syrian.

The governing March 14 coalition is demanding the president leave the presidential palace at midnight.

A spokesman for Mr. Lahoud says the president will not name an interim government when he leaves office. The spokesman says the outgoing president does not want to further divide the country.

Political analysts say they expect Mr. Lahoud to ask Army Commander General Michel Sleiman to maintain order in the country until parliament fills the political void.