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Lebanon's Presidential Election Postponed for Ninth Time

Lebanon's presidential election has been postponed a ninth time, as top political leaders again failed to reach a political deal that the Hezbollah-led opposition is demanding before a vote can take place. The opposition and the pro-Western ruling coalition have agreed on the candidate, but a constitutional amendment must pass first, as Edward Yeranian reports from Beirut.

Lebanon's top political leaders have hit another stumbling block, forcing the postponement of the presidential vote in parliament, scheduled for Monday, until December 22. It was the ninth such postponement in two months.

Parliament speaker Nabih Berri made the decision to call off the election after it became clear that demands by the Hezbollah-led opposition for a package deal, including top government posts and senior political nominations, would not be agreed upon by the ruling March 14 alliance.

Parliament member Antoine Zahra, representing the March 14 alliance, complained that Syria and its allies have decided once again to keep the Lebanese presidency vacant.

Lebanon's constitution must be amended before a vote to elect Army Commander General Michel Suleiman to be president. Both sides have agreed to nominate Suleiman, but a clause in Lebanon's constitution forbidding senior political appointees from running must be modified.

A top Hezbollah member of parliament, Hussein Hajj Hassan, insisted that neither side has agreed to a compromise over amending the constitution, adding that a package deal, including all opposition demands is needed for the amendment to pass.

He says without such an agreement, the ruling alliance will not feel obliged to respect a power-sharing agreement after a new president is elected.

He says the March 14 alliance is trying to renege on a pledge for a national unity government.

Beirut's al Akhbar newspaper, which is close to Hezbollah, wrote the new tensions have arisen between Saudi Arabia and Syria, forcing the election to be postponed.

Members of the ruling majority have repeatedly accused Syria of torpedoing the election.

Telecommunications Minister Marwan Hamadeh, representing the March 14 majority, said Syria is trying to impose its views.

Hamadeh says Syria is trying to impose new conditions or force them through using France or Turkey or other countries, which means Syria intends to decide on the next Lebanese government, returning us to the era of Syrian occupation.

General Michel Aoun, a top member of the pro-Syrian opposition, said last week that he would be the opposition's leading negotiator, rather than Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, throwing the negotiating process into further confusion.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State David Welch visited Lebanon during the weekend, meeting top political leaders and urging them to fulfill their duty and elect a president.