11 November 2007

Hezbollah turns up the pressure in Lebanon crisis

BEIRUT (Reuters) - Lebanon's Hezbollah on Sunday called on incumbent President Emile Lahoud to take action if rival political leaders are unable to agree on a consensus president in next week's election.

Hezbollah chief Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah did not say what he wanted the president to do and his call seemed likely to further complicate efforts to elect a president.

But the powerful leader appeared to be backing a suggestion that pro-Syrian Lahoud could form a parallel government if there was no agreement on the presidential election.

Lebanon's presidential election has been postponed from November 12 to November 21 to give the anti-Syrian majority coalition and the Hezbollah-led opposition more time to break a deadlock over a compromise candidate. Lahoud's term expires on November 23.

But there has been little progress towards an agreement and the majority, backed by the United States, has said it would elect a president on its own if there was no deal.

Nasrallah said Hezbollah would consider any such president as an "usurper of power" and labeled the government of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora "a bunch of thieves and murderers" backed by the United States and Israel.

"From here, we appeal to his excellency President Emile Lahoud to do what his conscience and national responsibility stipulates... and take a step or a national salvation initiative to stop the country from (sliding into) a vacuum," Nasrallah said in a live televised address to a crowded Hezbollah rally.

The majority says Lahoud does not have the constitutional right to take any measures without the approval of the government.

Lahoud's six-year term was extended in 2004 by another three years at the behest of Syria, a step that enraged the international community.

Lahoud has largely been shunned since then and Syria ended its three-decade-long military presence in Lebanon in 2005 in the wake of widespread outcry after the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri.

Damascus has denied any links to Hariri's killing.

The parliamentary session to elect a president had already been postponed twice. The impasse has pushed Lebanon into its worst political crisis since the 1975-90 civil war and many Lebanese fear a failure to reach a deal could lead to more bloodshed amid reports that all factions are arming themselves.

Hezbollah, which fought a 34-day war with Israel last year, is by far the strongest military force.

Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, a Hezbollah ally, announced the delay in the presidential vote on Saturday. French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner is expected in Beirut later this week.

France is leading international efforts to ensure a smooth election, seen as vital to resolving the year-old political dispute that has paralyzed the country.-(yahoo/reuters)

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Lebanon Time-Line

Introducing Lebanon

Coolly combining the ancient with the ultramodern, Lebanon is one of the most captivating countries in the Middle East. From the Phoenician findings of Tyre (Sour) and Roman Baalbek's tremendous temple to Beirut's BO18 and Bernard Khoury's modern movement, the span of Lebanon's history leaves many visitors spinning. Tripoli (Trablous) is considered to have the best souk in the country and is famous for its Mamluk architecture. It's well equipped with a taste of modernity as well; Jounieh, formerly a sleepy fishing village, is a town alive with nightclubs and glitz on summer weekends.

With all of the Middle East's best bits - warm and welcoming people, mind-blowing history and considerable culture, Lebanon is also the antithesis of many people's imaginings of the Middle East: mostly mountainous with skiing to boot, it's also laid-back, liberal and fun. While Beirut is fast becoming the region's party place, Lebanon is working hard to recapture its crown as the 'Paris of the Orient'.

The rejuvenation of the Beirut Central District is one of the largest, most ambitious urban redevelopment projects ever undertaken. Travellers will find the excitement surrounding this and other developments and designs palpable - and very infectious.

Finally, Lebanon's cuisine is considered the richest of the region. From hummus to hommard (lobster), you'll dine like a king. With legendary sights, hospitality, food and nightlife, what more could a traveller want?

Introducing Beirut

What Beirut is depends entirely on where you are. If you’re gazing at the beautifully reconstructed colonial relics and mosques of central Beirut’s Downtown, the city is a triumph of rejuvenation over disaster.

If you’re in the young, vibrant neighbourhoods of Gemmayzeh or Achrafiye, Beirut is about living for the moment: partying, eating and drinking as if there’s no tomorrow. If you’re standing in the shadow of buildings still peppered with bullet holes, or walking the Green Line with an elderly resident, it’s a city of bitter memories and a dark past. If you’re with Beirut’s Armenians, Beirut is about salvation; if you’re with its handful of Jews, it’s about hiding your true identity. Here you’ll find the freest gay scene in the Arab Middle East, yet homosexuality is still illegal. If you’re in one of Beirut’s southern refugee camps, Beirut is about sorrow and displacement; other southern districts are considered a base for paramilitary operations and south Beirut is home to infamous Hezbollah secretary general, Hassan Nasrallah. For some, it’s a city of fear; for others, freedom.

Throw in maniacal drivers, air pollution from old, smoking Mercedes taxis, world-class universities, bars to rival Soho and coffee thicker than mud, political demonstrations, and swimming pools awash with more silicone than Miami. Add people so friendly you’ll swear it can’t be true, a political situation existing on a knife-edge, internationally renowned museums and gallery openings that continue in the face of explosions, assassinations and power cuts, and you’ll find that you’ve never experienced a capital city quite so alive and kicking – despite its frequent volatility.