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Lebanon Holds Municipal Elections

June 14, 1998

BEIRUT, Lebanon (AP) _ Lebanon’s president and his son are backing rival candidates in the largest town in Lebanon’s eastern sector in Sunday’s municipal elections.

About 4,000 Lebanese soldiers, backed by armor, have been deployed in the east’s Bekaa Valley to ensure safe balloting in the polls, the last in the four-stage municipal elections held over the past four weeks.

Sunday’s round is distinguished from earlier votes by the absence of sectarian competition.

Whereas elections in Mount Lebanon, north Lebanon, Beirut and south Lebanon tended to feature Muslim versus Christian races, in eastern Lebanon ``it’s Shiites against Shiites and Christians against Christians,″ as it was put in the Christian newspaper Nidaa al-Watan.

In Zahle, 23 miles east of Beirut, the election has become a tussle within the president’s own family.

President Elias Hrawi, his younger son Roy, and his nephew Khalil Hrawi, a member of parliament, have endorsed a slate of candidates for the 21-seat council in the family’s hometown.

But George Hrawi, the president’s elder son, is backing legislator Elie Skaff _ a long-time rival with the elder Hrawi for the leadership of Zahle’s mostly Greek Catholic community.

George Hrawi, who shied away from politics until recently, says he does not agree with his father’s policies.

A fierce race is expected in the east’s second biggest city, Baalbek, where the two rival Shiite Muslim parties, Hezbollah and Amal, are vying for control of the 21-seat municipal council.

The pro-Syrian Amal has joined forces with a coalition of Syrian-backed leftist parties in a bid to defeat the pro-Iranian Hezbollah.

The elections, the first municipal polls for 35 years, are widely seen as bolstering democracy after the 1975-90 civil war.

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