Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Pro-Western bloc beats Hezbollah in Lebanon vote

From AFP, by HADEEL AL-SHALCHI*, 9/6/09:

BEIRUT (AP) — Lebanon's Western-backed coalition defeated Hezbollah and its allies, according to official results Monday that dealt a stunning setback to the Iranian-backed militants and set the stage for renewed political deadlock in the volatile nation.

... A win for [Hezbollah] would have boosted the influence of its backers Iran and Syria and risked pushing one of the region's most unsettled countries into international isolation and possibly more conflict with Israel.

...Paul Salem, Beirut-based director of the Carnegie Middle East Center, an arm of the Washington-based Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said the overall result of the elections is reassuring for the West. "Certainly it goes in a positive direction in the sense that it doesn't shake the boat. It reassures the Arab countries, Europe, and the U.S. that there will be no dramatic change of policy," he said. "It reinforces a kind of reasonable rather than a radical situation in the region."

...influential Maronite Catholic Church...Cardinal Nasrallah Sfeir warned voters on the eve of the election of what he called an attempt to change Lebanon's character and its Arab identity, a clear reference to Hezbollah and its Persian backer, Iran.

The interior minister announced the final results for the 128 parliamentary seats from all 26 districts at a news conference. The tally showed the winning coalition with 68 seats versus 57 for the Hezbollah-led alliance. Three seats went to independents. The allocation was largely unchanged from the outgoing legislature, ensuring that the same disputes will continue to roil the political scene.

Israel, which warned ahead of the elections that a Hezbollah victory could further destabilize the Middle East, welcomed the victory. Officials said they hope that the political clout of Hezbollah had been blunted, though there seemed to be some fear the group might try to stir up trouble on the border in the wake of its defeat.

"There was an election in Lebanon and the moderate camp won. This is definitely a positive sign," Defense Minister Ehud Barak said. "But the real proof will be in the pudding and mainly in the government's ability to enforce order and prevent Hezbollah from continuing military actions in southern Lebanon and throughout Lebanon."...

*Associated Press Writer Ian Deitch in Jerusalem contributed to this report.
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