Lebanese Speaker quits over 'vote-rigging'

BEIRUT (Reuter) - Dealing a blow to Lebanon's first general election in 20 years, the pro-Syrian House Speaker, Hussein Husseini, resigned yesterday, accusing his political opponents of vote-rigging. Earlier, Mr Husseini, a Shia Muslim, urged the government to scrap Sunday's polls in his east Lebanon district after the pro-Iranian Hizbollah took a commanding lead. Mr Husseini accused the group of rigging votes.

The Interior Minister, Sami al-Khatib, dismissed a request that counting be suspended in the Bekaa Valley's Baalbek district where Mr Husseini headed a list of 10 pro-Syrian candidates. The Christian Voice of Lebanon radio station said the speaker's decision was a 'political bomb' that would further embarrass the Syrian-backed government after many Lebanese Christians boycotted the polls.

The north and the east of the country voted on Sunday and polling in Beirut and Mount Lebanon's Christian heartland is scheduled next Sunday. Pro-Syrian candidates led in most northern and eastern areas. Initial figures in Baalbek, a Hizbollah stronghold, showed fundamentalist candidates well ahead.