Lebanon: High tensions as by-elections held
Thousands of Lebanese on Sunday went to polling stations to vote in a key election to replace two assassinated lawmakers. The tense vote is taking place in two electoral districts, one in Beirut and the other in Lebanon's Metn region, a Christian stronghold.
Voters will pick candidates to replace legislator and cabinet minister Pierre Gemayel, a Christian who was assassinated late last year, and lawmaker Walid Eido, a Sunni who was killed in a Beirut car bomb in June. Both were allies of the Lebanese government and vocal opponents of Syria.
The elections were called by the government without the required approval of President Emile Lahoud.
Mohammed al-Amin Itani, a candidate of parliament for majority leader Saad Hariri's Future Movement, is inclined to easily win the contest for Eido's seat, because the Hizbullah-led opposition did not officially sponsor a candidate.
But in Metn, the vote for Gemayel's seat is a bitter contest between two candidates, one of whom is the assassinated politician's father.
Amin Gemayel, who was president of Lebanon for much of the 1980s, decided to compete for his son's seat on behalf of the ruling coalition. He faces off against Kamil Khoury, who is backed by Christian opposition leader Michel Aoun, a former army commander and prime minister allied with the opposition.
"Now that the Syrians are out, they blame me of being with them," Aoun said referring to accusations that he is trying to bring back Syrian dominance in Lebanon.
At many polling stations in Metn, Gemayel's supporters distributed white roses in memory of the late minister to voters before they cast their ballots.
Tension has been high in Metn, and several clashes were reported between Aoun and Gemayel's supporters during the past week.
Gemayel has accused Damascus of being behind the assassination of his son and a number of other anti-Syrian politicians and public figures during the last two years.