By Nadim Ladki  BEIRUT (Reuters) – Lebanon’s pro-Syrian parliament speaker promised on Wednesday that elections, the first without a Syrian military presence for 33 years, would start on May 29.  Nabih Berri’s announcement, a day after Syria pulled its last soldiers and spies out of Lebanon after 29 years, means the parliamentary elections will be held on time as demanded by the international community and Lebanon’s anti-Syrian opposition. “I can confirm to the Lebanese that the elections will happen beginning on May 29,” Berri told reporters. He was speaking even before Prime Minister Najib Mikati’s new government had won a vote of confidence in parliament, a hurdle expected to be surmounted later in the day. Mikati is a wealthy businessman with close ties to Damascus.

Political sources said his government would announce the final election dates later this week. Lebanon usually holds such polls in several rounds staggered over several weekends.

The sources said Berri had reached agreement on the election late on Tuesday with the Shi’ite Muslim Hizbollah group, Druze opposition leader Walid Jumblatt and the parliamentary bloc loyal to slain former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri.

The four political forces, which together dominate the chamber, agreed on the timing and on the law organizing the poll. The sources said the election would follow the same rules as the last one in 2000, because there was no time to draft a new electoral law before parliament’s term expires on May 31.


The elections had been threatened with delay by the Feb. 14 killing of Hariri, which threw Lebanon into its worst political crisis since the 1975-1990 civil war and galvanized local and international opposition to Syria’s 29-year military presence.

The Lebanese opposition had accused Syrian-backed officials of procrastinating over the polls, which they expect to give them a majority in the house now dominated by Damascus’s allies.

Syrian forces entered Lebanon in 1976 and the last Syrian soldier left the country on Tuesday. The last Lebanese election held without Syrian forces in the country was in 1972.

Syria dominated Lebanon after the civil war, incurring little serious international opposition until a U.N. Security Council resolution in September demanded it withdraw.

The outcry over Hariri’s assassination prompted Syria to announce plans to withdraw its remaining 14,000 troops in Lebanon. The pullout took about seven weeks to complete.

Diplomats in New York said on Tuesday the United Nations was still looking for someone to lead an international investigation into Hariri’s killing, blamed by many Lebanese on Damascus.

The U.N. Security Council on April 7 ordered an outside inquiry after a U.N. fact-finding mission concluded that Lebanon’s own probe into the killing was seriously flawed.

Some 50 people, including administrative and security staff are expected to participate in the international investigation.

A small U.N. team was expected in Beirut to work with Lebanese authorities in preparing the larger mission.