Lebanon's president proposes early elections

Lebanon's pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud, under heavy pressure from anti-Syrian groups to step down, vowed on Saturday to stay in office until the end of his extended term but proposed early parliamentary elections as a way out of the presidential stalemate.

Lahoud also rejected calls by some anti-Syrian leaders for Hezbollah to disarm in line with a 2004 U.N. resolution, stressing that the anti-Israeli militant guerrilla group should keep its weapons until a peace settlement is reached for the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Lahoud's remarks came as leaders of Lebanon's rival factions are in the midst of a dialogue on the president's fate and Hezbollah's disarmament. Also, U.N. Middle East envoy Terje Roed-Larsen began talks in Saudi Arabia Saturday as part of a regional tour that will also take him to Lebanon to push for the implementation of U.N. Resolution 1559, which calls for Hezbollah and Palestinian guerrillas in Lebanon to disarm.

The anti-Syrian coalition, which controls the majority in Lebanon's Parliament, is pushing for Lahoud to step down, accusing him of being the top enforcer of Syria's policy in Lebanon. Anti-Syrian groups have accused Syria of responsibility for last year's assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

Referring to the anti-Syrian groups, Lahoud said in an interview with Al-Jazeera satellite channel broadcast Saturday night: "If they claim they are the parliamentary majority, let them hold early elections and see whether this is true. If they do not fear anything, let them call for early elections and let the new legislators elect a new president."

Lahoud said with the emergence of new alliances since last year's parliamentary elections, the anti-Syrian groups no longer controlled the majority in the 128-member legislature.

He said early parliamentary elections was one of the ways to break the presidential deadlock to determine what the people want. Otherwise, he said, "I will not leave office."

Lahoud has rejected repeated demands by anti-Syrian groups to step down, vowing to stay in office until his extended term ends in 2007, reports AP.


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