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Lebanon delays presidential election
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Lebanese parliament on Friday postponed its session for electing a new president for the fifth time on Friday, raising fears of a political vacuum in the country.


The parliament is scheduled to convene at 1:00 p.m. (1100 GMT) to elect a successor to replace President Emile Lahoud whose term ends on Friday midnight.


Earlier on Friday, more than 100 parliament members (MPs) arrived in the parliament building in downtown Beirut in succession, but the MPs from the Hezbollah-led opposition bloc refused to enter the general assembly hall in line with a boycott declared a day earlier.


Shortly after the deadline, a parliament spokesman announced that "To allow for more consultations to arrive at the election ofa president, Lebanese Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri decided to postpone today's session till Nov. 30."


Meanwhile, Presidential Spokesman Rafiq Shlala said President Emile Lahoud would step down and leave the palace at midnight, local Naharnet news website reported.


Under Lebanon's constitution, if no president is elected by the parliament in time limit, presidential powers pass to the government.


But President Lahoud, an ally of the Hezbollah-led opposition, has reiterated that he would not hand over the power to the government led by Prime Minister Fouad Seniora, which he considered as "illegitimate."


Lebanese ruling coalition and the opposition have been separated by a wide chasm since six of the opposition's ministers resigned from Seniora's government last November.


Berri, also a senior leader of the opposition, made the decision of postponement after separately meeting with Saad Haririand Walid Jumblatt, senior leaders of the majority bloc.


Later Friday, Hariri met Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Sfeir and said he had promised to pursue talks with Berri to find a consensus candidate.


"We will not leave the country in a vacuum," Hariri was quoted by local New TV as saying.


Many fear Lahoud's departure from office with no deal could result in a presidential vacuum or two rival administrations and even violence in the country.


In Beirut, thousands of Lebanese soldiers and police, backed by armored vehicles, deployed across the city overnight.


The army has warned against any internal strife, while the rival leaders have said they are committed to stability and peace.


(Xinhua News Agency November 24, 2007)

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