UN urges free, fair Lebanese elections
( AP ) - The U.N. Security Council on Monday called for free and fair presidential elections in Lebanon without foreign interference and urged rival politicians to resolve the political standoff through dialogue.
With the deadline for choosing a new president just 2 1/2 weeks away, the council held closed consultations on Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's recent report on the country's progress toward holding presidential elections and disbanding all militias.
In a statement issued after the meeting, the council recalled "the need to hold free and fair presidential elections in conformity with the Lebanese constitution and without any foreign interference and influence."
Members of the Security Council "reaffirm the need for all parties to resolve all political issues on the basis of reconciliation and national dialogue," it said.
The struggle to choose a successor to pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud before he steps down on Nov. 24 has become Lebanon's most serious political crisis since the end of the 1975-90 civil war.
Prime Minister Fuad Saniora's pro-Western, anti-Syrian government, which holds a slim majority in parliament, and pro-Syrian opposition factions, led by Hezbollah, have been deadlocked for 11 months.
Saniora's allies are determined to install an anti-Syrian in the presidency, hoping to end one of the last vestiges of Damascus' control in Lebanon, which Syria dominated for nearly 30 years until 2005.
But Hezbollah and its allies have vowed to block any candidate they don't approve - and on Sept. 25 they prevented the election of a new president by boycotting a parliamentary session.
If parliament cannot elect a president by Nov. 24, Saniora and his Cabinet will automatically assume executive powers. Some in the opposition have said they would respond by backing a rival administration.
"It's important that member states raise that issue with all relevant parties because if there are no elections or if we indeed - worse case - end up with having in principle two presidents or maybe two governments, that would be not good news for Lebanon and not good news for the region," Terje Roed-Larsen, the top U.N. envoy for Lebanon-Syria issues, said after briefing the council.
U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad stressed that "an illegitimate separate government ... will be unacceptable to the international community."
"This election should take place on time and without foreign interference," he said.