BEIRUT (Reuters) - An anti-Syrian Christian leader said on Saturday Hezbollah could use armed force to stop the Lebanese parliament from electing a new president in the next few weeks.
Samir Geagea, a prominent member of the ruling coalition, accused pro-Syrian Hezbollah of training Christian and Druze allies to prepare them to sabotage the election by force if it believed it would not be able to get a friendly president.
Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri called lawmakers this week to meet on Sept. 25 to elect a successor to pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud, whose term expires on Nov. 23. But a deep political crisis means the vote is unlikely to go ahead then.
The constitution says a new president should be elected between Sept. 24 and the end of Lahoud's term.
"Hezbollah is playing a dangerous game," Geagea told Reuters by telephone. "Hezbollah is preparing to sabotage the presidential election session by force, armed force this time."
Geagea said Hezbollah would resort to that option if it thought that it would not be able to bring a president similar to Lahoud -- someone who would "secure its own interests and not the interests of the Lebanese people".
He said the Shi'ite Muslim group was training at its military camps in eastern Lebanon members of a group loyal to Christian opposition leader Michel Aoun and others loyal to a Druze opposition politician.
Hezbollah is the only group to keep its military arm after the end of the 1975-1990 civil war. It fought a devastating war with Israel last year in which 1,200 Lebanese and 160 Israelis were killed.
The group, which has repeatedly vowed never to use its weapons in any internal dispute, did not comment on Geagea's remarks.
The opposition says it would like to find a consensus candidate for the presidency with the ruling coalition but some majority leaders have said they might go it alone and elect a president through their simple majority in parliament.
Without a consensus candidate, opposition lawmakers will not attend the presidential election, meaning a two-thirds quorum required for the vote will not be met. The governing coalition has only a slim majority in the chamber.
The governing coalition, which is backed by the United States and Saudi Arabia, and the opposition including Hezbollah, supported by Iran and Syria, are locked in a bitter 10-month-old political conflict over representation in government.
The opposition, which includes Speaker Berri's Amal group, called last week called for a compromise that includes an agreement between both sides on a consensus candidate.
The governing coalition has yet to formally respond to the idea but Geagea said he and his allies saw some positives in the offer. But he said an agreement on a candidate should have no strings attached to it.
"The essence of the call is positive," Geagea said.
The standoff over the presidency is the latest stage in the political conflict that has paralysed government since November and is Lebanon's worst political crisis since the civil war.
The presidency must be occupied by a Maronite Christian in Lebanon's sectarian power-sharing system.
Geagea, a Maronite, said that if no deal was reached the majority had the right to elect a new head of state in November without the two-thirds quorum.
Such a step would be rejected by the opposition. Hezbollah has warned it would be take Lebanon towards "partition".
Lahoud has said that if parliament fails to elect a new president with the two-thirds quorum he could install an interim government headed by the army chief.
That step would be rejected by the governing coalition and probably leave Lebanon with two governments.
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