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Lebanon's Lahoud orders army to maintain security before stepping down
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09:30, November 24, 2007

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Outgoing Lebanese President Emile Lahoud Friday ordered the army to enforce law and order throughout Lebanon, claiming that "risks of a state of emergency" prevail over the nation, local Naharnet news website reported.

Lahoud said in the three-article statement that the move goes into effect after his term expires at midnight Friday (2200 GMT).

"The risks of a state of emergency prevail over all the territories of the Republic of Lebanon as of Nov. 24," the statement said.

"The army is assigned the task of maintaining security and all military forces would be placed at the army's service," it said, adding that once a "legitimate government is formed" the army command would coordinate its moves with it.

In response, Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Seniora's press office rejected Lahoud's decision, saying it doesn't coincide with Lebanon's reality and the declaration of the state of emergency lacks constitutional and legal basis.

According to Lebanese constitution, the president does not have the authority to declare a state of emergency without obtaining the approval of the government, which is entitled to take over as soon as the presidential office becomes vacant.

Lahoud considers the government of Prime Minister Fouad Senioraas illegitimate after six pro-Syrian Shiite ministers resigned about a year ago.

Lahoud' decision followed the failure of rival Lebanese leaders to agree on his successor, creating a vacuum in the presidency from midnight.

Lebanese parliament had been scheduled to convene on Friday to pick a new president but the session, which had been delayed for four times, was postponed again to next Friday.

"The session has been postponed until next Friday, or Nov. 30, to allow for more discussions to arrive at the election of a president," Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri said in a statement.

Shortly after Berri postponed the session, presidential spokesman Rafiq Shalala said President Emile Lahoud would step down and leave the palace at midnight, Naharnet said.

Under Lebanon's constitution, if no president is elected by the parliament in time limit, presidential powers pass to the government.

But President Lahoud, an ally of the Hezbollah-led opposition, has reiterated that he would not hand over the power to the government led by Prime Minister Fouad Seniora, which he considered as "illegitimate."

In downtown Beirut, usually bustling streets are quiet and vigilant soldiers and police, backed by armored vehicles and tanks, are deployed at major intersections.

More than 10,000 troops from Lebanon's various security forces have been brought into the capital to maintain order, while a similar number of rapid-response troops will be on hand for support if needed, which could bring the total number of forces on the streets to 20,000.

According to the country's power-sharing system, Lebanon's president must be a Maronite Christian and is elected by parliament rather than by popular votes.

A two-thirds majority is required for a candidate to be elected by parliament in a first round of voting. In the event of a second round, a simple majority suffices.

The ruling coalition led by Saad Hariri enjoyed a slim majority in the 128-seat parliament by 68 seats against the opposition's 59.


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