Hezbollah and its allies said yesterday that they would boycott a parliamentary session to prevent the anti-Syrian majority from electing a new president for Lebanon.
Police and troops clamped extra security around the assembly building in Beirut before today's session, whose original purpose of picking a successor to pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud looks doomed to fail. Lahoud leaves office on November 24.
"If there is no consensus (on a new president), our bloc will not attend the session," said Ali Hassan Khalil, one of 16 MPs loyal to Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, an ally of Damascus who also heads the Shi'ite Amal movement.
Amal's opposition partners, the Shi'ite Hezbollah group and Christian leader Michel Aoun's faction, also plan to stay away, blocking any chance of mustering the two-thirds quorum required to elect a president in the first round of voting.
Samir Geagea, a Christian leader in the anti-Syrian bloc, said the opposition's tactics put Lebanon in peril.
"Anyone who delays the election of a president for a moment contributes to exposing the Lebanese deputies and the Lebanese people to grave danger," he told a news conference.
The anti-Syrian ruling coalition has only a narrow majority, which was slimmed further by last week's car bombing that killed Christian MP Antoine Ghanem, the fourth anti-Syrian legislator to be assassinated since the last parliamentary poll in 2005.
The presidential contest, the first since Syrian troops left Lebanon in April 2005, has aggravated what was already the country's worst political crisis since the 1975-90 civil war.
Armored troop carriers, fire engines and ambulances strengthened a cordon around parliament and nearby Serail government headquarters, already sealed off by barbed wire from a tent camp the opposition set up nearly 10 months ago to try to topple Prime Minister Fouad Siniora's US-backed Cabinet.
The Cabinet met yesterday to discuss security for the parliament meeting, the first Berri has called this year.
Saudi Arabia, whose ties with Syria chilled after the 2005 killing of ex-premier Rafik al-Hariri, a dual Saudi-Lebanese citizen, echoed the government's security worries.
"What is happening in Lebanon is a tragedy," Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal told Arabiya television. "There are people who are determined to kill the Lebanese lawmakers to disrupt the presidential election process."
Ghanem's killing has delayed plans for Berri to meet Maronite Christian Patriarch Nasrallah Sfeir and majority bloc leader Saad al-Hariri to seek a compromise before the session.
Berri now plans to wait in his office at parliament until it is clear that not enough MPs have shown up for a presidential vote. He may then postpone the session until mid-October to give more time for agreement on a candidate acceptable to both camps.
Source: China Daily/Agencies