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Hezbollah ally admits defeat

Hezbollah’s main Christian ally in an Iranian-backed coalition has acknowledged it’s been defeated by pro-Western factions in Lebanon’s parliamentary election.


“The vote shows a victory for the March 14 coalition and also shows a defeat for the Lebanese who had hoped for change in this country,” said Michel de Chadarevian, a member of the political bureau of the Free Patriotic Movement led by former general Michel Aoun.

Celebration in Beirut

Meanwhile celebratory gunfire rattled through Beirut early this morning and fireworks exploded into the sky after the Western-backed coalition declared victory in Lebanon’s crucial national election.

Lebanese waving the national flag and the blue banners of coalition leader Saad Hariri’s party paraded through the streets of the capital as results emerged from Sunday’s closely-fought election

“Congratulations to you, congratulations to freedom, congratulations to democracy,” a triumphant Hariri told cheering supporters as he claimed victory for his anti-Syrian coalition over a Hezbollah-led alliance.

“This is a big day in the history of democratic Lebanon.

“There is no winner and loser in these elections, the only winner is democracy and Lebanon,” he added, calling on his supporters to refrain from provoking the rival camp.

“Let us celebrate our victory in a civilised manner,” he said. “Let us not engage in provocation or violations that will affect this great day for democracy.”

Police and soldiers were out in force in sensitive areas for fear of fighting between rival factions in a war-scarred country that remains deeply divided along sectarian lines.

In May last year, Beirut was rocked by deadly street battles that saw Hezbollah and its supporters seize large swathes of Sunni areas of the capital as the country remained mired in a deep political crisis.

Hariri, whose father, the billionaire former prime minister Rafiq Hariri was killed in a Beirut car bombing in 2005, said he would work with the opposing camp for the sake of Lebanon.

Hariri’s anti-Syrian coalition — which held the majority in the outgoing parliament — was expected to win 70 seats in the new 128-seat assembly and the Hezbollah alliance 58 seats, according to his Future television station.

Pro-Western coalition

Lebanon’s pro-Western coalition has claimed victory over an alliance led by the fundamentalist Shiite militant group Hezbollah.

“Indications so far are that our camp will maintain its majority in parliament,” an official from the anti-Syrian grouping known as March 14 said on condition of anonymity.

The television station owned by majority leader Saad Hariri said his camp

expects to win 70 seats in the 128-member parliament against 58 for the

Iranian-backed Hezbollah and its Christian and Shiite allies.

As celebrations broke out in several cities, Hasan Fadlallah of Hezbollah refused to acknowledge defeat for the Iranian-and Syrian-backed alliance — whose emergence as a possible victor in the election had caused jitters in the West.

“What matters to us now is that Lebanon turns a new page, one based on partnership, cooperation and understanding.”

“Lebanon’s specificity is in its diversity and there is no majority or minority,” he told AFP. “No party can claim to have won the majority among all communities.”

Robust turnout

More than half the country’s 3.2 million eligible voters queued at polling stations to cast a ballot on Sunday.

Preliminary estimates put turnout at more than 54 percent, well above the

45.8 percent recorded in the last election four years ago and the largest since at least the end of the 1975-91 civil war

“Voter turnout exceeded all expectations,” Interior Minister Ziad Baroud said after polls closed.

About 50,000 police and soldiers were on patrol nationwide to prevent any violence and there were no reports of serious problems, although three people were arrested for using fake identity cards and the army intervened in one city after some voters traded insults and blows.

International observers said most problems seemed to have caused by the high turnout, with some voters complaining of a long wait to cast their ballot.

Power-sharing system

Under Lebanon’s complex power-sharing system, the seats are divided equally between majority Muslims and minority Christians, who make up about a third of the four-million population.

Hezbollah itself fielded just 11 candidates but heads an alliance grouping the Shiite Amal movement and the Free Patriotic Movement, a nationalist party headed by Christian civil war army chief Michel Aoun.

Israel, which fought a devastating war with Hezbollah guerrillas in 2006, had warned that victory for the Shiite group would pose a danger to the entire region.

The United States also blacklists Hezbollah as a terrorist organisation and had warned that continued military aid would hinge on vote outcome.