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(photo credit: AP [file])
The Hizbullah expressed hope on Monday that the newly elected French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, will bring a "more balanced" approach to Lebanon's political crisis, while the governing coalition wished for continued support from Paris.
The outgoing French president, Jacques Chirac, has staunchly supported the Lebanese government against Syria and its local allies in the Lebanese opposition, including Hizbullah, drawing their criticism.
Given these dynamics and Lebanon's history as a former French territory, it is no surprise that the election of Sarkozy was closely watched by politicians on both sides of the fence. TV stations ran live coverage late Sunday of elections results and speeches by Sarkozy and the runner-up, Segolene Royal.
The reaction was swift. Counting on a Sarkozy administration to change course in Lebanon, Hizbullah welcomed the election results and urged the new leader to make policy decisions that "are more appropriate with French national interests, and consequently less biased toward one party against the other."
"We hope that the French president will have the vision for a more influential role through being more balanced" in his policies, Nawaf Mussawi, head of the international relations at Hizbullah, said in a statement.
Neighboring Syria, also a former French-ruled territory at odds with Chirac over his Lebanon policy, congratulated Sarkozy. President Bashar Assad in a telegram expressed hopes that relations between Syria and France, which have been marred for the past two years, "would develop for the two countries' interests," Syria's state-run news agency reported.
Chirac has led the international charge in support of Lebanon, organizing in January a Paris donors' conference that raised more than $7 billion in soft loans and grants for Lebanon. In addition, he sent French troops as peacekeepers to southern Lebanon to monitor a cease-fire that ended the fighting last year between Hizbullah and Israel.
Chirac's involvement in Lebanon caused a stir last year when Lebanese President Emile Lahoud, a pro-Syrian, publicly criticized the French president. The unusual high level rift was seen as the lowest point in bilateral relations since Lebanon gained independence from France in 1943.
Lahoud has urged Chirac to stop intervening in Lebanese domestic affairs, accusing him of siding with the anti-Syrian governing faction. He even blamed Chirac for excluding the Lebanese leader from a summit of French-speaking nations held in Romania in September. Chirac has rejected the charges.
Understandably, Lebanon's governing coalition hoped Sarkozy's presidency would mean continued French support.
Within minutes of the results, Saad Hariri, head of the parliamentary majority in Lebanon and son of slain leader Rafik Hariri, sent a message of congratulations to Sarkozy, expressing confidence that historic ties will continue to develop.
"This is the hope of all the Lebanese who remember France and the French for their permanent stand toward their causes, and this I pledge to continue to work to achieve it in my political and parliamentary position in Lebanon," Saad Hariri said in a statement.
The late Rafik Hariri was a friend of Chirac and the outgoing president is leading the efforts to create an international tribunal to try killers of the former prime minister.
There has been quiet concern in the country's parliamentary majority that with Chirac leaving office, personal, hands-on involvement by France may become a thing of the past.
The governing coalition in Beirut needs French backing, particularly in the U.N. Security Council, which discussed the tribunal last week and could adopt it without Lebanon's approval because of a deadlock between the government and opposition over its formation.
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