Mon, May 30, 2005 - Page 1 News List

Lebanese vote proceeds without duress or incident


Lebanon's first parliamentary polls without heavy-handed Syrian meddling began yesterday, and loyalty to the former premier whose assassination catalyzed the turmoil that drove Syrian forces out was displayed at the capital's ballot boxes.

The family of slain Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri -- widow Nazek, sons Fahd and Ayman and daughter Hind -- led the voting, arriving within an hour of the opening of polls at 7am.

"I have high hopes today that we will uncover the truth of who planned and carried out the crime against my beloved husband, who in life built this country and in his martyrdom achieved national unity," Nazek Hariri told reporters after casting her ballot at a Verdun polling station before she headed to downtown Beirut to pray at her slain husband's grave.

Many observers expect the polls to sweep the anti-Syrian opposition to power and install a new parliament, removing the last of Syria's political control. Syrian forces withdrew last month, ending a 29-year military dominance, after mass demonstrations in Lebanon and relentless international pressure sparked by the February assassination.

More than 100 foreign observers from the EU and the UN were watching the vote for irregularities, the first time Lebanon has permitted foreign scrutiny. The organization of French-speaking countries also sent a delegation.

It was also the first election where Syrian or Lebanese intelligence agents or their allies did not appear to be influencing voters.

"There is no pressure," said Mohieddine Badran, a 57-year-old barber who said he voted for the Hariri ticket because "they are clean guys" who would carry out the slain leader's program.

The spiritual leader of Sunni Muslims, the sect to which the Hariris belong, joined in calling for people to go out and vote.

"Today is the day of gratitude for the great martyr Rafik Hariri," said Mohammed Rashid Kabbani, the Grand Mufti of the Republic, after voting. "Indifference could negatively affect the outcome."

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