June 28, 2005

Lebanon’s parliament re-elects pro-Syria speaker

BEIRUT (Reuters) - Lebanon's parliament re-elected veteranpro-Syrian politician Nabih Berri as speaker for a fourthconsecutive term on Tuesday.

The 128-seat assembly, dominated by opponents of Syria forthe first time since the 1975-1990 civil war, voted by amajority of 90 votes for Berri to return.

Berri, leader of the Amal Movement, has held the positionof speaker, the highest open to a Shi'ite Muslim underLebanon's sectarian system, since 1992.

Lebanon's main parliamentary blocs agreed to back Berri inits first parliamentary session since the May 29-June 19elections despite international reservations over one of themain enforcers of Syria's tutelage over its tiny neighbor.

The elections were won by groups that opposed Syria's rolebut they had little choice but to back Berri after his alliancewith the Hizbollah guerrilla group won over 80 percent of theShi'ite vote.

That made it difficult for parliament to replace himwithout appearing to defy the will of a large segment of theLebanese.

Lebanon's sectarian system divides top government postsamong its main religious communities. The country's presidentis always a Maronite Christian, the prime minister is a SunniMuslim and the parliament speaker a Shi'ite.

Shi'ites, the country's largest sect, had largely stayedaway from anti-Syrian protests after the February assassinationof former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri. Those protests helpedforce Syria to bow to international pressure to end its 29-yearmilitary grip on Lebanon in April.

Western diplomats had said they hoped Berri would beremoved to allow Lebanon a fresh start without the Syrians.