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US opposes amending law to renew Lebanese president’s term: congressman

BEIRUT (AFP) – Visiting US congressman Ray LaHood said that the United States was opposed to amending the Lebanese constitution to allow President Emile LaHood to renew his term in office.

“What I told the prime minister (Rafiq Hariri) … is that our country, the United States, thinks it is absolutely critically important that the country of Lebanon conducts their elections, that there not be an amendment, no amendment of the constitution, that the elections must be carried out,” he said.

“If you’re going to have the kind of government that you want in this country, then the people have to have their say,” he told reporters after meeting with Hariri.

The Illinois Republican Representative, who is of Lebanese descent, also pledged “there will be no role for the United States” in the Lebanese presidential elections, scheduled for the fall.

“The people (of Lebanon) should decide who their leaders are,” he said.

“We will not pick the new leaders of Lebanon but the people should do that, and that’s what the constitution requires,” he said. “The constitution should be followed and there should be no amendment.”

A debate has been raging in Lebanon in which many, including Hariri, have rejected any parliamentary amendment of the constitution to allow LaHood, whose mandate expires in November, to stay on for a new six-year term.

Under the constitution, the president, who is elected by parliament, is not allowed to serve two consecutive terms.

Presidential candidates have complained that powerful neighbor Syria, which maintains some 20,000 troops in Lebanon, has become the sole decision-maker in naming the Lebanese head of state.

LaHood, propelled to the top job in Lebanon in 1998 by the influence of then Syrian president Hafez al-Assad, continues to enjoy strong backing from Syria’s incumbent President Bashar al-Assad.