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Anti-Syria camp wins in Lebanon


Rafik Hariri

BEIRUT, Lebanon (CNN) -- Opposition leader Saad Hariri's anti-Syrian camp has emerged with a resounding victory in Lebanon's parliamentary elections, an official said Monday.

"The elections are behind us and we don't see anything in front of us but the future of Lebanon," said Hariri, who became a candidate after his father, Rafik, was assassinated.

Interior Minister Hassan Al Sabaa, speaking on national television, said 72 of the 128 seats will be allocated to Hariri's Future Movement, an alliance that includes Walid Jumblatt's Progressive Socialist Party, Lebanese Forces and Qurnet Shahwan.

Another 25 seats will go to Amal (Nabih Berri) and Hezbollah; and 21 seats will go to an alliance of the Free Patriotic Movement, Skaff, Franjieh and Tashnak, the minister said.

"This victory is to be given as a present to the soul of the martyr Rafik Hariri," the son told reporters a day after the fourth and final voting took place in the country's north.

About his opposition, Hariri said, "We don't think that we are in a quarrel with anybody. We may have a difference of opinion, but we'll not allow such differences of opinion to grow into a problem that stands in the way of reconstructing the country and regaining the democratic path."

He added, "We are not closing the door in the face of any of the parties. We're ready to talk to anybody."

Hariri said he would submit to parliament within a week an aggressive agenda that would build on his father's legacy and focus on growth.

"In order to have growth, we need to change a lot of laws in parliament."

About his father, Hariri had nothing but praise.

"I think I owe my father everything," he said. "I think this election was about my father. I think people believe in his program. I'm here merely to continue what he started."

He predicted the country would make rapid strides in short order "because we have a free country. Unfortunately, we paid a very hefty price to get our freedom and now we need to move forward."

And he extended a hand to all sectors of the society.

"I really hope that all the rhetoric and slogans are behind us. People have concerns, so let's sit together and work and enough of this talk."

He added, "We respect all religions and we are against any divisive or sectarian talk."

Saad Hariri's electoral list, a coalition made up of candidates opposed to neighboring Syria's longtime domination of Lebanon, swept the first round of elections in late May.

The four elections, spread out over four weeks, marked the first vote since the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanese territory.

Winning 21 of the 28 seats at stake in Sunday's balloting gave the younger Hariri's slate a majority in Lebanon's 128-seat parliament.

A coalition led by the pro-Syrian, Shiite Muslim Hezbollah swept the second round of voting, and a pro-Syrian slate led by former army commander Michel Aoun, a Christian, won the third.

Adib Farha, a Middle East analyst at American University in Washington and a former adviser to Rafik Hariri, called Sunday's results "great news for Lebanon, great news for its economic recovery and great news for national reconciliation."

But he said the results also could reignite sectarian tensions in a country that fought a grinding civil war from 1975-90 -- the conflict that brought Syrian troops into Lebanon in the first place.

"There is concern that the Christians, the majority of whom voted for a hawk in last Sunday's round against the moderates, might misconstrue the election results of today as a victory for the Muslims," Farha said.

"Unfortunately, in politics, oftentimes perception becomes more important than the truth."

But Hariri's largely Sunni Muslim bloc has drawn the support of some prominent Christians, "and this is not something to be taken very lightly," Farha said.

Hariri's father, a businessman turned politician, led Lebanon's pro-Syrian government before becoming an advocate of Syria's withdrawal.

His death in a February car bombing sparked massive protests and renewed international pressure on Damascus to withdraw the nearly 14,000 troops and intelligence officers it had kept in Lebanon for nearly three decades.

A U.N. report in March found Damascus interfered with Lebanon's government in a heavy-handed way that was "the primary reason for the political polarization that ensued" before the elder Hariri's killing.

The Lebanese opposition has gone further, saying his assassination was an act of political retribution by Syria -- an allegation the Syrians deny.

The United States, which also complains that Syria is not doing enough to prevent anti-American insurgents from crossing into Iraq, has continued to pressure the Syrian government over its role in Lebanon.

Earlier this month, U.S. President George W. Bush warned Syria over what he called "troubling" reports that its intelligence officers remain in Lebanon after the April withdrawal.

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