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Tuesday, November 20, 2007       Free Headline Alerts

Troops enter Beirut to guard parliament against pro-Syria takeover threat

NICOSIA The government of Prime Minister Fuad Siniora has poured thousands of troops into the Lebanese capital to protect parliament in any vote for the nation's next president.

Officials said more than 10,000 troops have been deployed in Beirut ahead of a parliamentary session scheduled for Nov. 21 in anticipation of Iran-back Hizbullah intimidation. The session could be the last before the mandate of President Emile Lahoud expires on Nov. 24.

"There is a state of emergency in the capital," an official said.

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So far, parliament has twice postponed a vote to select a successor to the pro-Syrian Lahoud, Middle East Newsline reported. Two anti-Syrian parliamentarians aligned with Siniora have been assassinated over the last four months.

The troops were sent by the Lebanese Army, Internal Security Forces, State Security and General Security. The army has sent a brigade to prevent what the Siniora government feared could be a takeover by the Iranian-sponsored Hizbullah.

Siniora has also ordered another 10,000 army soldiers for deployment outside Beirut. The soldiers have been on alert to rapidly respond to any emergency in the capital.

Several allies of Lebanon have sought to reach agreement between Siniora and the pro-Syrian opposition that would enable a vote in parliament. Still, many parliamentarians were said to fear that they could be assassinated if they attended the session.

"I would like to know who has an interest in chaos, who has an interest in the elections not taking place, who has an interest in making it even more complicated for the life of all the Lebanese," visiting French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said on Monday.

One option being considered by Siniora was of a compromise candidate for president. Lebanese Chief of Staff Gen. Michel Suleiman has been muted for the role of an interim president, with a two-year term.

The Lebanese military and security forces have been on high alert since Nov. 18. Officials said all forces have been mobilized to full strength, or about 90,000 troops.

"This state of readiness means that all long vacations for army officers and men have been cancelled, all unmarried soldiers have been instructed to return to their units, while married soldiers are given 12-hour leaves to sleep at their homes only if they are close to their units," a security source told the Beirut-based Daily Star.

On Monday, security and intelligence chiefs briefed Interior Minister Hassan Sabaa on threat scenarios. The chiefs were said to have urged tight security around most government ministries and security agencies. One scenario was of an uprising led by Palestinian agents of Syria in refugee camps around Lebanon.

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