Source: AFP, 29-11-2007
BEIRUT - Prominent opposition leader Michel Aoun said on Thursday he backed the army chief, General Michel Sleiman, to become Lebanon's new president, a move that could help to fill a week-long political vacuum.
"Yes of course, I back him and I am very happy," Aoun told reporters. "If the majority wants and other parties in the opposition want, then it is okay."
The constitution bans senior public servants from seeking the presidency until two years after they have resigned from their posts. Any amendment would have to be drafted by the government and then presented to parliament for ratification.
But Aoun and the rest of the opposition -- including the powerful occupation-resistance party Hizbullah, -- have branded the Western-backed government as illegitimate since the resignation of all Shiite cabinet members last year.
"There are constitutional obstacles that should be removed because the government is illegitimate," Aoun said.
On five previous occasions since September 24, parliament has failed to meet to choose a new president amid disputes between the Western-backed ruling coalition and the opposition -- supported by Syria and Iran.
On Wednesday, the majority proposed Sleiman and said it was willing to drop its opposition to the constitution being amended to allow his candidacy, in order to spare the country further turmoil.
Hizbullah has declared that it would only back Sleiman if Aoun accepted.
Aoun had been a declared candidate for the presidency, a post traditionally occupied by a Maronite Christian.
Sleiman, 59, was appointed nine years ago with Syria's approval and is generally well respected among all the country's factions.
He is credited with keeping the army united despite the upheavals that have shaken Lebanon since the 2005 assassination of Hariri's father, ex-premier Rafiq Hariri, and the subsequent withdrawal of Syrian troops from the country after 29 years of occupation.
The crisis, the worst since the end of the 1975-1990 civil war, is widely seen as an extension of the regional confrontation pitting the United States and its ally Saudi Arabia against Iran and Syria.