Lebanon’s Aoun says to run for parliament

By Nadim Ladki

BEIRUT (Reuters) – Anti-Syrian Christian opposition leader Michel Aoun said on Sunday he would run in Lebanon’s parliamentary election despite difficulties in forging an electoral alliance with Muslim opposition leaders. The fiery retired general said talks on linking up with Druze leader Walid Jumblatt and Saad al-Hariri, a Sunni Muslim, had produced no agreement on a joint ticket for the polls.

He said time was running out for a deal between the three men, the most prominent figures in the disparate opposition that helped end Syria’s 29-year military presence in Lebanon.

The Feb. 14 assassination of Hariri’s father, former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri, triggered a wave of peaceful street protests in Lebanon and intense international pressure that forced Damascus to withdraw its forces last month.

Aoun told Voice of Lebanon radio he would run for a seat in the June 12 ballot to choose representatives for Mount Lebanon, a mixed Druze, Christian and Shi’ite district in the center of the country.

“I will announce in the coming hours… my alliances and joint lists,” Aoun said. “We will continue discussions with (Hariri’s) Future bloc even if the subject were to be closed with Mr Walid Jumblatt.”

Jumblatt, whose Druze power base is in Mount Lebanon, has been reluctant to join forces with Aoun, a former civil war foe, wary of his popularity among Christians in the area. The two men have exchanged harsh words in recent weeks.

Hariri’s killing plunged Lebanon into its worst political crisis since the 1975-1990 civil war and welded Christians, Druze and Sunni Muslims into a formidable, but loose opposition.

The unity it displayed against Syria’s role in Lebanon has frayed amid sectarian squabbling and political maneuvering ahead of the polls to be held in four rounds from May 29 to June 19.

Aoun, 70, returned to Lebanon on May 7 after 14 years of an exile that began after his defeat by Syrian troops in 1990. He says he wants to fight corruption and implement political and economic reform — goals now echoed by Hariri and Jumblatt.

The run-up to the elections, the first without Syrian troops for 33 years, has already sprung some surprises.

Former Prime Minister Omar Karami, a staunchly pro-Syrian politician and MP since 1991, said on Friday he would not run in the elections in his Tripoli stronghold in the north.

Anti-Syrian protests forced Karami, 70, to submit his government’s resignation two weeks after Hariri’s death. His attempts to form a new government failed last month and the opposition accused him of trying to delay the polls.

Hariri, riding a wave of sympathy after his father’s death, is expect to sweep Beirut, which votes on May 29. His candidates have already clinched nine of the 19 seats up for grabs before a vote is cast because their opponents withdrew.

Two more seats have also gone by default in south Lebanon, including one for Bahia al-Hariri, sister of Rafik al-Hariri.

(Additional reporting by Laila Bassam)