RABIEH, Lebanon (AFP) – Retired General Michel Aoun with less than 11 weeks to go before presidential elections, sees his candidacy as the only way out for a Lebanon deep crisis. "Maybe I am the key because I am independent, love Lebanon, and am a free man, with no foreign capital behind me … I can be the bridge between all sides," he said. "I can’t guarantee anybody else. I know my country, our politicians … I don’t want a mistake," Aoun told AFP in an interview at his  villa headquarters in the affluent mountain resort of Rabieh, northeast of Beirut

The Maronite Christian opposition leader said he was opposed to a "weak" consensus candidate coming forward in a bid to break the deadlock, warning that such a scenario could spark further instability and "destroy the country."All-party talks taking place near Paris this weekend were "an opportunity for all parties to expose their points of view … and for a possible initiative born of a synthesis," Aoun said."If we are not optimistic, why go to Paris? We have to give a chance to all initiatives," he said.Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement won a vast majority of the Christian vote in 2005 legislative elections, after Syria ended its almost three decades of military domination of Lebanon under international pressure following former premier Rafiq Hariri’s murder.

During 15 years of exile in France, after his aborted 1989-1990 "war of liberation" against Syrian troops, "I heard people say: ‘Poor Christians, they don’t have a leader’. But when they have a strong leader, they refuse him," he said.

"Everybody has to understand Lebanon cannot be ruled by eliminating a large faction, a third of the population," he said, referring to Shiites, who are expected to make up the largest single community within the decade.

The 72-year-old general is not concerned that Hezbollah has so far not declared support for his candidacy.

"Maybe they will declare it at the right moment. Right now there is no other candidate" for the post which is reserved for a Maronite.

Aoun brushed aside his critics. "People may be against me, but they can’t support anybody else," said the combative politician, who rose to the top of Lebanon’s armed forces.

"If there is somebody to challenge me, he has to present the Lebanese people with solutions … and resolve our problems peacefully. He has to develop trust between Lebanese factions," he said, promising a raft of democratic and institutional reforms.

Aoun said the formation of two governments, if parliament fails to hold a presidential election because of Lebanon’s months-long political paralysis, would amount to "the less worse scenario, much better than leaving a void" at the top of Lebanon’s institutions.

"But I would not take part in such a government," he said, with bitter memories of the past and his years in exile.

In 1988, then president Amin Gemayel left office without agreement on a successor and named Aoun as prime minister, leaving the country with two rival administrations at each other’s throats.

The ageing general played down fears of a renewed civil conflict in Lebanon. "We are afraid of terrorist acts and foreign interference, but we do not fear (an outbreak of) fighting among Lebanese," he said.

Parliament’s challenge is to elect a successor to pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud, whose term runs out on November 25. The president is elected by a two-thirds majority in parliament, failing which a second round is held with only an absolute majority needed.

While the majority controls enough seats to elect a president, it still needs the pro-Syrian opposition led by  Hebollah to take part for the two-thirds quorum which parliament traditionally needs to convene.