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Rival Moslem, Christian Governments Take Charge In Lebanon

September 23, 1988

BEIRUT, Lebanon (AP) _ Leaders canceled another effort to elect a new president as Lebanese awakened today to life under rival Christian and Moslem governments.

The sectarian strife threatened to reignite a 13-year civil conflict that has taken more than 130,000 lives.

Today’s scheduled session of Parliament to elect a new chief of state was called off after President Amin Gemayel named an interim military government led by a Christian. The Maronite Catholic president announced the caretaker Cabinet on Thursday night - five minutes before his six-year term expired.

Moslem leaders branded his move a virtual coup and vowed support for the existing Moslem-led Cabinet.

The denunciations came Thursday on a day of renewed religious violence. Three leaders of the main Shiite Moslem militia, Amal, were assassinated earlier in the day, and Christians battled Moslems for two hours along Beirut’s dividing Green Line. One Christian was reported killed.

Though Gemayel’s move was aimed at assuring a measure of unity in the crisis, it initially appeared to have the opposite effect. Three Moslem appointees immediately refused to serve in the Cabinet, now led by army commander Gen. Michel Aoun, a Maronite Catholic.

″This is a midget coup d’etat. It’s not going to lift off the ground,″ said Druse Moslem chieftain Walid Jumblatt in a statement broadcast by Moslem radio stations in Beirut.

Jumblatt said the ″only legal government is that of acting Prime Minister Salim Hoss,″ a Sunni Moslem.

Gemayel’s choice of Aoun as prime minister came after leading Moslem politicians refused to take part in an interim Cabinet headed by a civilian Maronite prime minister.

An unwritten national covenant calls for Lebanon’s president to be a Christian, the prime minister a Sunni Moslem and the speaker of Parliament a Shiite Moslem.

Gemayel, 45, named the transition government because Parliament, deeply divided along religious lines, failed to elect a new president Thursday. Christian deputies opposed presidential candidates backed by Syria, the nation’s main power broker, and boycotted voting.

Today’s scheduled parliamentary session was the third failed attempt in five weeks to elect a new president.

″The session is postponed until a date that will be announced later,″ said a terse statement read by Parliament Secretary Ihsan Abu Khalil.

The constitution bars Gemayel from seeking another term.

Aoun, 53, had warned on Wednesday that his 42,000-man army would take control of Lebanon if no new president was elected before Gemayel’s term expired.

But after the ceremony to hand over power, Aoun said: ″My program is to arrange the speedy election of a new president.″

Aoun and his ministers, who represent the six main religious sects of Lebanon, keep their top military posts.

Refusals to serve in the caretaker Cabinet came quickly from Maj. Gen. Mahmoud Abu Dergham, a Druse; Col. Lutfi Jaber, a Shiite; and Brig. Gen. Nabil Qoraitem, a Sunni.

Aoun, asked if he would govern with only two Christian members besides himself, said: ″I haven’t been formally informed of their (the Moslems’) rejection yet.″

Also named to Aoun’s Cabinet were Col. Issam Abu Jamra, Greek Orthodox; and Brig. Gen Edgar Maalouf, Greek Catholic.

Aoun will probably not be able to cross the Green Line into the Moslem sector, where the prime minister’s office is located. Military sources said he was commuting between the presidential Baabda Palace and his headquarters in nearby Yarze today.

In his televised farewell address, Gemayel said,″Today should have been a festival in which we rejoice over the election of a new president .... But the people of war were stronger than peace.″

A police spokesman said Amal leaders Daoud Daoud, Mahmoud Fakih and Hassan Sbeiti died instantly when gunmen raked their car with machine-gun fire and rocket-propelled grenades in south Beirut’s seaside Ouzai district.

Daoud and Fakih led an April crackdown on Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed Party of God organization. Security sources said Hezbollah vowed to kill them, but no group immediately claimed responsibility.

Two of the three candidates running for president - former President Suleiman Franjieh, 78, and Parliament Deputy Mikhail Daher, 58 - were chosen by Syria, which has about 40,000 troops in Lebanon.

The third, veteran politician Raymond Edde, 75, opposes all foreign meddling in Lebanon. He leads in public opinion polls.

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