12/03/2007, 00.00
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Sfeir remains concerned as support for Sleiman increases

The ruling majority expresses “unconditional support” for the candidacy of the Army Chief to President of the Republic. But first the Constitution must be amended and the opposition imposes conditions.

 Beirut (AsiaNews) – The possibility that Lebanon will soon have a new President of the Republic seems to be gathering pace, in the figure of Army Chief of Staff Michel Sleiman. But the situation remains worrying, as Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Sfeir once again highlighted yesterday.

The cardinal returned to voice his serious concern over the dramatic turn of events in the country, recalling all involved to take on their responsibilities and carry out their civic duty, while criticising those who continue to threaten national stability.  The patriarch then renewed his appeal to all deputies that they take part in elections for the new president set for December 7th.  Card. Sfeir made no effort to hide his disillusionment regarding the constitutional vote and those who continue to voice criticism regarding his position.

Regarding the choice of a new head of state, the leaders of the ruling majority yesterday gave their unconditional support of an amendment to article 49 of the constitution, in order to pave the way for the election of 59 year old general Michel Sleiman, the current Army Chief, as 17th president of the Republic.  Former president Amin Gemayel maintains that the current military commander “could favour the peace process and help bring about a return of trust in Lebanon, following the political crisis which has held the country in its grip for some time now”.

The opposition led by Hezbollah, one the one hand says it will not accept a constitutional amendment presented by a government it considers illegitimate, on the other it imposes a series of conditions before it accepts Sleimans’ candidacy.  They go from blocking the head of the ruling majority, Saad Hariri as prime minister to calling for a new government in which a “third block” is guaranteed, in short the possibility to block any executive decision.  For his part, gen. Michel Aoun, up until now the opposition candidate for the presidency, has said he supports general Sleiman, but has asked that he step down in time for the political elections set for 2009, instead of fulfilling the mandate to 2013.

Sleiman has been head of the army since 1998, when Lebanon was till under Syrian “control” and this is partly the reason why he is accused of being an ally of Damascus.  On the other hand he is recognised as having kept the army out of political disputes and his rigorous behaviour during the siege of Nahar el-Bared refugee camp is also recognised, where Fatah al-Islam extremists were entrenched, which many in the west believe is linked to the Syrian secret service. (YH)


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