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Factbox, May 25, 2008

Lebanonwire

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Role of army generals in Lebanese politics

BEIRUT - Lebanon's parliament is due to elect army chief General Michel Suleiman as president on Sunday, filling a post left vacant for six months because of a political crisis that had pushed the country to the brink of a new civil war.

Suleiman is the fourth general to become the top official since independence in 1943.

Here is a brief review of former army generals who ruled Lebanon:

FOUAD CHEHAB, 1958-1964

Born in 1902, Chehab was appointed as head of the Lebanese armed forces in 1945. He was sworn in as president in July 1958, a choice which both Lebanese Muslims and Christians supported, ending six months of sectarian conflict between them.

Lebanon enjoyed economic prosperity and reform during his tenure, but opponents say it was marred by the increased role of the Lebanese intelligence service in internal affairs.

Chehab refused to run for a second term, even though the cabinet had approved a motion in favour of amending the constitution to enable him to do so. He died in 1973.

MICHEL AOUN, 1988-1989

Aoun was appointed army chief in 1984.

In September 1988 then-President Amin Gemayel appointed him head of an interim military government, minutes before his own presidential term expired, after feuding politicians and civil war leaders failed to elect a president.

A constitutional crisis ensued as Muslim leaders refused to recognise Aoun's government, staying loyal to the existing Muslim-led government in west Beirut headed by Selim al-Hoss.

Aoun declared a "War of Liberation" against Syrian forces in Lebanon and engaged the main Christian Lebanese Forces militia in fighting that devastated the Christian heartland.

In November 1989, Renee Mouawad was elected president but Aoun did not step down until Syrian-led forces drove him out of the presidential palace on Oct. 13, 1990. He fled to France, returning only after Syrian forces left Lebanon in 2005.

Aoun now heads the Christian opposition Free Patriotic Movement which is allied to the pro-Syrian Hezbollah. He had harboured ambitions to become Lebanon's next president.

EMILE LAHOUD 1998-2007

Regarded as Syria's choice, General Emile Lahoud became president in 1998 after heading the army since 1989.

Article 49 of the constitution had to be amended to allow Lahoud, who had been serving army chief, to become president.

During his term, Israeli forces quit southern Lebanon and Syrian influence in Lebanese affairs grew dramatically.

Lahoud's six-year term was extended at Syria's behest in 2004 for three years. Lebanon then began sinking into its worst political crisis since the 1975-1990 civil war.

Former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri, a political foe of Lahoud, was assassinated in February 2005. Syria's foes in Lebanon blamed Damascus, which denied any involvement. Eight more anti-Syrian figures have been killed since then.

Despite the departure of Syrian troops, Damascus has retained some influence in Lebanon through its local allies, especially the Shi'ite political-military group Hezbollah.

Lahoud left office on Nov. 23 with no chosen successor. -Reuters

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