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Lebanon's parliament elects ex-general Michel Aoun president

Lebanon’s parliament has elected former army commander Michel Aoun to be the country's next president. A political stalemate had left the post empty for more than two years.

Christian leader Michel Aoun was sworn in as the country's president on Monday after winning a majority of 83 votes in the 128-seat parliament.

Aoun, 81, a close ally of the Iran-backed militant group Hezbollah, was widely expected to win the ballot. Although he failed to get a two-thirds majority - or 86 votes - in the first round, he got well above the 65 needed to be successful in the runoff.

Fireworks echoed across Beirut as the tally was read out on a televised broadcast, while thousands of supporters of Aoun's Free Patriotic Movement celebrated in major squares.

The election of the former army chief ends a 29-month political vacuum in Lebanon, which had been without a head of state since former President Michel Suleiman stepped down in May 2014. In the meantime, 45 parliamentary sessions to elect a new leader collapsed over political infighting and failure to reach a quorum.

Breakthrough vote

A way out of the deadlock emerged earlier this month when former Prime Minister Saad Hariri, who heads the largest bloc in parliament, said he would back Aoun for president. Hariri described his endorsement as necessary to "protect Lebanon, protect the (political) system, protect the state and protect the Lebanese people."

Aoun is due to meet MPs later this week to discuss their preferences for prime minister, widely expected to be Hariri.

Aoun is Lebanon's 13th president since it gained independence from France in 1943. Under the country's sectarian power-sharing system, the presidency is reserved for a Maronite Christian, the prime minister is a Sunni Muslim and the speaker of parliament is a Shiite Muslim.

nm/tj (Reuters, AP, AFP, dpa)

 

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