Lebanon: Opposition wins seat in by-elections
Lebanon's opposition captured one of two seats up for election Sunday to replace assassinated governing party legislators. The government coalition retained the second seat virtually unopposed, official results showed.
The voting was largely peaceful, although a few skirmishes between the rival camps were reported.
Voters picked candidates to replace Pierre Gemayel, a Christian who was assassinated in November, and Walid Eido, a Sunni killed in a Beirut car bomb in June. Both were vocal opponents of Syria. Gemayel was also a cabinet minister.
The key vote was in the Metn region, a Christian stronghold northeast of Beirut. Amin Gemayel, a former president running on behalf of the government for a seat his son held before his assassination last year, faced Kamil Khoury, a political newcomer supported by Christian opposition leader Michel Aoun.
According to the AP, the government said its coalition lost the seat by a small margin. Interior Minister Hassan Sabei, announcing the results before dawn Monday, declared Khoury the winner by a 418-vote edge. He received 39,534 votes against Gemayel's 39,116. Turnout was 46 per cent.
The pro-government coalition retained its seat in the capital Beirut. Mohammed al-Amin Itani, a candidate of majority leader Saad Hariri's Future Movement, won easily after the opposition did not officially sponsor a candidate. Sabei, whose ministry organizes the balloting, declared Itani a winner with 22,988 votes. An opponent came a distant second with 3,556 votes. Turnout was about 19 per cent.
Sunday's elections were considered a key popularity test for Aoun and Gemayel. Aoun has already said he would run for president.
Late Sunday, both sides claimed victory and accused the other of forgery. Each had supporters celebrating in convoys on the streets in Beirut and Metn.
Witnesses and security officials said loyalists of Aoun and Gemayel faced off in a neighbourhood east of Beirut late Sunday, even with scores of Lebanese army troops and riot police deployed to prevent trouble.
Antoine Nasrallah, a spokesman for Aoun, told Al-Jazeera one supporter was wounded in the hand after being shot by Gemayel supporters near Bikfaya in Metn. Security officials said one person was slightly injured but did not say from which camp.
"We have been informed of our victory," Aoun said through his OTV station.
Gemayel earlier refused to concede defeat. "Congratulations for your victory," he told supporters outside his house, to the backdrop of fireworks. He also called for calm.
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