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Germany

German President Congratulates Lebanon's New Leader

Germany's President Horst Koehler congratulated Michel Suleiman on Sunday on his election as Lebanon's new president, saying the appointment was "an encouraging step to overcoming the internal crisis" in Lebanon.

Newly-elected Lebanese President Michel Suleiman, reviews the honor guard

Newly-elected Lebanese President Michel Suleiman, reviews the honor guard

President Koehler said Germany would help Lebanon as much as it could.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said, "I hope that a new government can be formed soon under President Suleiman and that the political stalemate and instability in Lebanon can be permanently overcome."

Suleiman took his oath of office as the 12th president, filling a post left vacant for six months and ending a political crisis that threatened a new civil war.

Suleiman, who leaves his post as army chief, was sworn in after garnering 118 of 127 votes in an election by parliament which had been postponed 19 times over the past six months.

The ballots had the name of former deputy Nassib Lahoud, another the name of former late premier Rafik Hariri and martyrs of Lebanon and a third had the name of Jean Obeid - one of the presidential candidates.

"I pledge to respect and protect Lebanon's independence, sovereignty and its constitution," said Suleiman, who was greeted with applause from lawmakers and guests.

Suleiman addressed the session after a minute's silence for the martyrs who have died in Lebanon since 2005 including the late Hariri, who was assassinated in a huge bomb blast. Hariri's followers blamed the assassination on Syria.

The new president called for "distinguished and balanced relations" with Damascus.

He also backed a UN International tribunal to try those responsible for the assassination of Hariri and other assassination attempts which have targeted anti-Syrian officials and journalists.

"We should all open a new chapter in favor of Lebanon," the new president said.

In reference to the weapons of the Shiite movement Hezbollah, Suleiman called "for adopting a defense strategy so that accomplishments of the resistance (Hezbollah) would not get lost."

Hezbollah has waged a war on Israel since the 1980s which led in 2000 to Israeli withdrawal from southern Lebanon.

House Speaker Nabih Berri expressed gratitude to the United States. He asked President Suleiman "to shepherd national dialogue on a defense strategy," adding a united Lebanon and its army would protect the homeland from terrorist threats.

Berri congratulated Suleiman saying: "Reconciliation is an essential step for the revival of Lebanon." He also thanked Qatar for his efforts to end the Lebanese crisis.

The Emir of Qatar Sheikh Hamad bin khalif al-Thani, who attended the session said: "The winner is Lebanon and the loser is the civil strife."

"You and Lebanon has made this success in Doha," the Emir said afterwards.

A Qatari-brokered deal last week between rival Lebanese leaders defused 18 months of political stalemate that erupted into fighting this month. Iranian-backed Hezbollah fighters briefly seized parts of Beirut, routing government loyalists.

Under the Doha deal, the priority was to elect a president and then form a national unity government, in which the opposition will have veto power, and a new law for 2009 parliamentary polls.

The occasion was summed up by Italy's Foreign Minister Franco Frattini, one of several EU and Arab foreign ministers attending the session, as "a great day of hope for Lebanon, starting a new process of consolidation of democratic institutions."

Prior to Sunday, parliament had not met for more than a year and a half, during which time the government of Prime Minister Fouad Seniora barely functioned.

Bouts of violence claimed scores of lives and revived memories of the 1975 to 1990 civil war.

The other foreign dignitaries attending Sunday's vote included a host of foreign ministers and those of archrivals Syria and Saudi Arabia.

The government of Premier Fouad Seniora is now considered an acting government and the new president is due to start consultations to appoint a new prime minister who will later form the national unity cabinet.

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