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Lebanon extends president's term

US accuses Syria of intimidation on lawmakers

BEIRUT -- Lebanon's Parliament amended the country's constitution yesterday to extend pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud's term, ignoring UN calls to hold an election to choose the head of state.

The result, secured after Lahoud supporters mustered more than the two-thirds of votes needed, had been expected. Neighboring Syria, the main power broker in Lebanon, backed Lahoud's bid to extend his six-year term, which was due to expire Nov. 24.

Ninety-six of the 125 lawmakers who attended the 2-hour session raised their hands to support the amendment, while the remaining 29 legislators voted against it. The bill was declared adopted by Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri.

Late Thursday, a deeply divided UN Security Council narrowly approved a resolution aimed at pressuring Lebanon to reject a second term for Lahoud and calling for an immediate withdrawal of all its foreign forces -- an indirect reference to Syrian troops.

The United States and France had pushed for the resolution, which was aimed at pressuring Syria to loosen its grip on Lebanese politics.

But Lebanon's lawmakers pressed ahead, affirming their loyalty to Syria by backing Lahoud, Damascus's close ally.

Legislator Mohammed Raad, leader of the nine-member Hezbollah bloc, the Lebanese guerrilla group the United States lists as a terrorist organization, said the vote was ''to support Lahoud and to reject the policies of the American administration in the region."

In Washington, the State Department accused Syria of threatening members of Lebanon's parliament to force passage of the legislation. ''We are gravely concerned that the will of the Lebanese people has been circumvented," said spokesman Tom Kasey.

France's Foreign Ministry issued a statement calling the amendment a ''challenge to the international community."

Before the proposal to extend Lahoud's term was put to a vote, opponents slammed the process and criticized Syrian interference.

''I reject the proposed amendment. It has been proven to us that the extension decision had been taken in Syria and by the Syrian regime," presidential candidate Butros Harb told the legislature.

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