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Lebanese Lawmakers to Try Again to Elect President

The Lebanese Parliament will make its next attempt to elect a new president on Saturday. The post has been vacant since late November, when the country's pro-Syrian president stepped down. As VOA's Alex Villarreal reports, the deadlock over the presidential vote stems from a fierce power struggle between pro and anti-Syrian forces in the parliament.

Lebanon's deeply divided parliament will meet again Saturday to try to elect a new president. The election has been postponed nine times since September.

Some parliament members have expressed frustration over the continuing stalemate. Samir Franjieh, a parliament member said, "There has been enough playing with the fate of this country, this is our reaction to what is going on. Let us elect a new president and let us close this chapter."

Lebanon has been without a president since November 23rd when pro-Syrian Emile Lahoud left office at the end of his term. His presidency was extended in 2004 after the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Hariri's death shook the country and led to the expulsion of the Syrian army from Lebanon.

The anti-Syrian March 14th movement and the pro-Syrian opposition party, which includes the militant group, Hezbollah, have been locked in a bitter power struggle ever since. This rivalry is at the root of the parliamentary impasse over the presidential vote.

Bilal Saab, of the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution in Washington says this is a critical time for Lebanon. "The Lebanese are trying to rule themselves for once. The Syrians are out, not completely but they don't have a military presence in Lebanon. So I do believe these are crucial moments for Lebanon's future stability," he says.

Lawmakers on both sides have agreed to back army commander General Michel Suleiman for the presidency. But they cannot agree on how to amend the constitution to allow General Suleiman to be elected. Nor can they agree on how to fill other government posts.

The stalemate has led to mounting international concerns over Lebanon's stability. A senior U.S. diplomat, Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs has been visiting Beirut to press for an end to the deadlock.