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September 26, 2017

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Anti-Syrian Christian leader scores major upset in Lebanese parliamentary elections

The anti-Syrian leader who returned from exile five weeks ago, Michel Aoun, caused a major upset Monday when the results of Lebanon's parliamentary elections showed his faction had scored surprisingly high, denying a majority to other opposition groups.

According to results announced by Interior Minister Hassan al-Sabei, Aoun and his allies clinched a total of 21 of the 58 seats contested Sunday, temporarily stalling the opposition alliance's drive to win a majority and end the dominance of pro-Syrian lawmakers in the new parliament.

"Had the people not found a new direction (in our party)," Aoun said after the results were announced, "they would not have voted for us."

The Shiite Muslim Hezbollah guerrilla group and its allies swept 10 seats in the eastern Bekaa Valley. Druse leader Walid Jumblatt's list won in central Mount Lebanon, giving the opposition alliance a gain of 27 seats.

With their wins in earlier rounds of the staggered elections, the opposition now has 46 seats in the 128-member legislature. The pro-Syrian Hezbollah and their allies have 33 seats after elections in southern Lebanon and Beirut. Aoun has 21, making him a key player in the battle to end Syria's control of the legislature.

Aoun has said he is prepared to talk to others in the new parliament. If he did not reach agreement, he and his allies would sit in opposition.

The opposition still has a chance to gain a majority when the final stage of the elections is held next Sunday in north Lebanon, where 28 seats are up for grabs.

Aoun, a Lebanese Army general who vainly fought the Syrians and their allies in the 1975-90 civil war, moved quickly Monday to consolidate alliances for Sunday's polls. He met former Interior Minister Suleiman Franjieh, a staunch pro-Syrian who has allied himself with the general. Aoun also visited former Prime Minister Omar Karami, another pro-Syrian.

Aoun rejected Monday accusations by Jumblatt that he was Syria's tool for undermining the opposition, and a promoter of extremism.

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