06/11/2005, 00.00
LEBANON
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Lebanon, Cardinal Sfeir: "Before voting, examine your conscience"

by Youssef Hourany

Beirut (AsiaNews) – Maronite Patriarch, Cardinal Nassrallah Sfeir, yesterday made a strong appeal to the nation to respect rules of electoral conduct, inviting voters to refute the logic of "electoral money". The Patriarch expressed his hope that "each will examine his conscience before casting his ballot next Sunday" and that an "effective parliament" will be elected "despite the dreadful electoral law, rejected by practically all honest Lebanese".

The Cardinal has summoned, for this "explosive" weekend, the superior Council of the Maronite Synod – marked last spring with the participation of more than 200 delegates from around the world – for a study seminar in the convent of Saidet el Jabal. The seminar will be supervised by the Secretary-General of the Maronite Synod Joseph Bechara.

Sfeir released the statement from his seat in Bkerke where he received one of the Opposition candidates, Maronite Nasib Lahoud, who said: "The elections have ruined the national consensus of 14 March." Talking shortly afterwards from his home in El Metn Chemali – in the northern quarter of Beirut – the man, who is founder of several charities, said "His Beatitude is the guarantor of a democratic process. I hope all follow the directives of the Patriarch, the only person who is seeking not his own interests but those of the Lebanese people."

Tomorrow's elections will carry weight especially as regards mixed regions, like Baabda-Alay, where Druze, Maronites, Greek-Orthodox and Shi-ites live together: in these regions, the Shi-ite vote will have clout. The scenario is not the same in the valley of Bekaa – a region shaken by internal conflict arising from the withdrawal of Syrian troops.

Last night, the final television debates among candidates took place: General Michel Aoun expressed his "full faith in the consciences of voters who have refused dirty money" and he also talked of his alliance with the vice-president of the parliament Michel Murr.

Nasib Lahoud, head of the Opposition list backed by Saad Hariri, was severely critical of General Aoun because of this alliance. Murr is one of those who was behind the persecution of Aoun's followers in recent years.

Fares Boueiz, former Foreign Affairs Minister, submitted his resignation and – and in an interview with AsiaNews – levelled heavy criticism at "friends of yesterday" like Farid Haikal Khazen, who left him to join the list of Saad Hariri
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