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Lebanon army chief set to become president

world Updated: May 24, 2008 08:33 IST

Lebanese lawmakers are poised to elect Army Chief Michel Sleiman as president on Sunday in a first step toward defusing a crippling and often deadly 18-month standoff between rival factions.

Sleiman, 59, will be elected during a session attended by several foreign dignitaries, including Qatar's emir, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner and Arab League Secretary General Amr Mussa.

It was Qatari mediation during talks in Doha that brokered a deal on Wednesday morning to end the impasse, which earlier this month had degenerated into violence, killing 65 people and pushing Lebanon to the brink of civil war.

Ali Hamdan, spokesman for Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, told AFP that among the 200 dignitaries invited were also the foreign ministers of Syria and Iran. Those two countries are strong backers of the Hezbollah-led opposition, of which Berri's Amal party is part.

US-backed Prime Minister Fuad Siniora and members of his current cabinet have also been invited to attend.

And Hamdan said a US congressional delegation had been invited and would be headed by Representative Nick Rahall, a West Virginia Democrat of Lebanese origin.

"The speaker wants this election to be a reconciliation wedding," he said.

Sleiman's main challenge will be to impose himself as a neutral figure in order to reconcile the interests of the parliamentary majority, from which the current Siniora government is drawn, and the opposition.

The Doha accord calls for Sleiman's election, a national unity government in which the opposition has veto power and a new law for parliamentary elections due next year.