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28 November 2007

Empty Lebanon presidency worries Christians

f710a269ba5b8b9e03d18f51ef1dd659.jpgBEIRUT (Reuters) - Lebanon's Christians fear a prolonged political vacuum while the post of president is filled will weaken their position in a sectarian system that reserves the job for them.

The presidency has been empty since November 23 when Emile Lahoud's term ended. The post, reserved for a Maronite, has fallen victim to a power struggle between rival camps led by Sunni and Shi'ite Muslim groups, but also among Christians themselves.

Split between the sides, Maronite leaders' deep rivalries have hindered efforts to reach an agreement on a new president. Parliament was due to convene on Friday in a sixth attempt at electing a new head of state.

But with no deal, political sources said on Wednesday the vote was likely to be delayed again, raising the specter of a long vacuum that would further undermine Maronite influence in the only Middle Eastern country with a Christian head of state.

"When there is a vacuum in the presidency of the republic, it directly translates into the absence of Christians from the constitutional structure and the increased marginalization of their role," former President Amin Gemayel told Reuters.

The end of Gemayel's term in 1988 ushered in Lebanon's last presidential vacuum. Divisions over his successor triggered one of the bloodiest chapters of the 1975-1990 civil war, during which rival Maronites took up arms against each other.

Those rivals -- Michel Aoun and Samir Geagea -- are still at loggerheads. An ally of Shi'ite group Hezbollah, Aoun insists he should be president because he heads the largest Christian bloc in parliament.

But the idea of an Aoun presidency is anathema to the governing alliance, which is led by Sunni politician Saad al-Hariri and includes Geagea's Lebanese Forces group.  Continued...

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