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Major security plan drawn up for Lebanon vote: Minister

Lebanon will deploy 50,000 police and soldiers to prevent any outbreak of violence during the June 7 parliamentary election as part of a major security plan, Interior Minister Ziad Baroud has said.

world Updated: May 31, 2009 07:50 IST

Lebanon will deploy 50,000 police and soldiers to prevent any outbreak of violence during the June 7 parliamentary election as part of a major security plan, Interior Minister Ziad Baroud has said.

"We will have 30,000 police and soldiers deployed at polling stations and their vicinity and 20,000 other police and soldiers deployed elsewhere nationwide," Baroud told AFP in an interview.

He said the plan takes into account sensitive regions where violence could erupt on election day between members of the current Western-backed ruling majority and supporters of the Hezbollah-led opposition alliance, which is backed by Iran and Syria.

Sectarian violence between the two sides left around 100 people dead last May when Hezbollah staged a spectacular takeover of mainly Sunni parts of west Beirut, prompting fears of a new civil war.

Baroud said security measures on election day had taken into account the risk of violence in each of the 26 electoral districts.

"In some districts there is minimal risk and in others it's more serious," he said. "And it's according to the risk factor that troops will be deployed."

For example, he said there was little likelihood of violence erupting in most of the regions in southern Lebanon where Hezbollah and its allies are assured victory.

However, the situation is expected to be more tense in regions where the vote is set to be tight, including the southern coastal town of Sidon and in the eastern Bekaa valley town of Zahle.

Baroud said he was nonetheless optimistic the vote would proceed smoothly, noting that there had been few security incidents in the run-up to the election.

"Of course, I am anxious ... but the political situation (locally and regionally) is more reassuring than alarming," he said.

"It's up to the country's political factions and every Lebanese man or woman to ensure there is no outbreak of violence."

Baroud, 39, a widely popular minister in the current 30-member national unity government in which Hezbollah is represented, said measures had also been adopted to prevent fraud at the 5,200 polling stations.

The vote this year for the first time is taking place on a single day rather than over a month-long period.

"We have taken anti-fraud measures including placing transparent boxes in polling stations, more secrecy of voting and we have adopted international standards," Baroud said.

"Also the indelible ink we will be using will prevent someone from voting twice."

Some 2,200 national observers and 250 international monitors will oversee the vote including from the European Union, the Carter Center, the Arab League and several countries.

The 128 seats in parliament are divided equally between Christians and Muslims.

Baroud said he expected final results to be announced on June 8, barring any major security incidents or fraud.

"I am crossing my fingers on a daily basis," he said.