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(photo credit: AP [file])
Lebanon will not participate in this weekend's Arab summit in Syria to protest alleged attempts by Damascus to block the Lebanese parliament from electing a new president, Lebanon's information minister said Tuesday.
Many members of Lebanon's pro-Western majority accuse Damascus of working with the country's opposition to scuttle repeated attempts to elect a successor to pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud, whose term ended in November. Syria denies the accusations.
Information Minister Ghazi Aridi said Tuesday that Lebanon could not attend the Arab summit without a president, the official who normally represents the country at the annual gathering. Lebanon has never before boycotted the meeting.
"It is a regrettable precedent that was imposed on us ... for the first time in the history of Arab summits," said Aridi, reading from a Cabinet statement following a four-hour meeting of the group Tuesday.
Aridi said Lebanon viewed the boycott as necessary to protect Lebanon's sovereignty and fight against interference in its internal affairs.
Anti-Syrian politicians blame Damascus for many of Lebanon's recent bombings, including that of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in 2005. His assassination triggered political upheaval and international pressure that forced Syria to withdraw its army from Lebanon that same year, ending almost three decades of domination of its smaller neighbor.
Lebanon's decision was widely expected after Saudi Arabia said Monday it would send its ambassador to the Arab League, rather than the king, to the March 29-30 summit.
US allies Saudi Arabia and Egypt had reportedly considered boycotting the summit unless a new Lebanese president was elected by the time of the meeting. Egypt has still not said whether President Hosni Mubarak will represent the country at the gathering.
Syria fears that a poor showing at the summit will further isolate President Bashar Assad's regime.