Lebanese lawmakers fail for fourth time to elect president

BEIRUT - Lebanese lawmakers failed for a fourth time to choose a new head of state on Thursday and will try again in a week's time, only three days before President Michel Suleiman's term ends.

If the next round on May 22 fails, it will create a power vacuum in a country that desperately needs leadership to deal with a spillover of violence from neighboring Syria, more than a million refugees from the civil war there, and a budget deficit close to 10 percent of the size of its economy.

Politicians say they expect disagreements over Suleiman's replacement to drag on for months after he leaves office.

Any candidate would have to get support from the two main political blocs - Shi'ite Muslim Hezbollah's March 8 alliance and the rival Sunni-led March 14 coalition - to win the necessary majority from parliament's 128 deputies.

But the two alliances support different sides in neighboring Syria, where Sunni rebels are fighting to overthrow Hezbollah ally President Bashar al-Assad, entrenching divisions in Lebanon.

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