Lebanon's parliament prepares to meet to elect president

Army troops and police sealed off downtown Beirut Tuesday and escorted lawmakers to parliament where they were meet to elect a new president in a vote shadowed by the assassination of a legislator and expected to be blocked by the Hezbollah-led opposition.

The security dragnet by several thousand soldiers and policemen was aimed at allowing anti-Syrian lawmakers from the parliamentary majority to move safely from a nearby heavily guarded hotel where they had taken refuge fearing assassination.

Fears of an attack were high after the slaying Wednesday of pro-government lawmaker Antoine Ghanem. It fueled accusations by government supporters that Syria is targeting members of the ruling coalition, a claim denied by Damascus.

Lawmakers began arriving in vehicles with dark-tinted windows with at least one policeman sitting inside. Several pro-government lawmakers wore white and red scarves on their shoulders _ a symbol of the 2005 campaign of protests that drove Syrian forces out of Lebanon in the wake of the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Some also carried protraits of slain lawmakers including Ghanem.

In the parliament chamber, a Lebanese flag and a portrait of a slain legislator was placed on his seat.

Even without the tensions, the attempt to choose a successor to President Emile Lahoud before he steps down on Nov. 24 is expected to be a struggle between the anti-Syrian government coalition, led by U.S.-backed Prime Minister Fuad Saniora, and the opposition, led by Syria's and Iran's ally Hezbollah, the Shiite Muslim militant group.

Despite the tough security measures and attempts at compromise after the assassination, the political differences remained so deep that a vote on a candidate was unlikely Tuesday and another session was expected to be called for mid-October.

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Author`s name Angela Antonova