Lebanon’s election is crucial: Clinton


Beirut : Visiting US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Sunday that Lebanon’s upcoming parliamentary election is crucial for an “independent and sovereign Lebanon”.

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Clinton, who arrived in Beirut on a surprise visit earlier Sunday amid tight security measures, stressed that she is in Lebanon “to send a clear message for fair and transparent elections.

“The polls must be held outside the circle of violence and foreign meddling to allow the people to choose their representatives peacefully,” Clinton said after meeting Lebanese President Michel Suleiman.

Lebanon’s parliamentary elections are set for June 7. The race will be tight between the western-backed ruling majority and the Hezbollah-led opposition.

It was Clinton’s first visit to Lebanon since taking office.

Clinton added that the US backed Suleiman’s efforts “to build a peaceful, prosperous, sovereign and democratic Lebanon”.

She is accompanied on the visit by Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, Jeffrey Feltman, a former ambassador to Beirut.

After her meeting with Suleiman, Clinton visited the tomb of slain former premier Rafik Hariri and was met by MP Saad Hariri.

“We back the UN international tribunal in the assassination of premier Hariri,” Clinton was quoted as telling Saad Hariri, son of the late premier and head of the ruling majority.

Hariri’s February 2005 assassination, blamed by many people in Lebanon on Damascus, triggered massive demonstrations which put an end to years of Syrian control over Lebanon.

Clinton stressed that her country supports “the voices of moderation and the Lebanese Army as the sole protector of Lebanon”.

According to a Lebanese government official, Clinton reassured Lebanese leaders that that US efforts to engage in talks with Syria and Iran would not come at their expense.

“Our discussions with the Syrians are not coming at the expense of the support for Lebanon’s independence,” Clinton was quoted as telling Lebanese officials.

Syria and Iran are the main backers of Lebanese Shia movement, which the US considers a terrorist organisation.

The US and their Arab allies, like Saudi Arabia, are strong supporters of Prime Minister Fouad Seniora and the anti-Syrian Sunni-led coalition that holds a majority in parliament.

Prior to her arrival in Lebanon, the new US Secretary of State had been in Kuwait and Iraq. In Baghdad on Saturday, she had met with top Iraqi leaders and assured them of continued US support for Iraq even as it withdrew combat troops.