President Emile Lahoud has said that Lebanon is in a "state of emergency" and ordered the army to take over security powers, hours before he was stepping down without a successor and leaving the divided country in a political vacuum.
The government, loyal to the prime minister, rejected the move, hiking up tensions. Lahoud's announcement immediately raised further confusion amid Lebanon's political turmoil, which many fear could explode into violence between supporters of the Western-backed government and the pro-Syrian opposition.
Lahoud, a top ally of Syria, cannot declare a state of emergency without approval from the government, but Lahoud's spokesman said the government of Prime Minister Fuad Saniora is considered unconstitutional.
"The president of the republic declares that because a state of emergency exists all over the land as of Nov 24, 2007, the army is instructed to preserve security all over the Lebanese territory and places all the armed forces at its disposal," Presidential spokesman Rafik Shalala said.
The statement instructed the army "to submit the measures it takes to the Cabinet once there is one that is constitutional," he said.