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Muslims gain by Christian poll boycott

BEIRUT (Reuter) - An Iranian- backed militant and several pro- Syrian candidates swept to victory in general elections for Mount Lebanon, results released early today showed. The second stage of voting in Lebanon's first general elections in 20 years went ahead yesterday, widening a gulf between the Christian and Muslim communities.

As voters in Muslim and Druze areas flocked to polling stations, the Christians abstained from voting in answer to a call by Christian opposition groups, who insist the election is a plot by Damascus to further control Lebanon. But the Christian boycott played into the hands of pro-Damascus and Muslim fundamentalist candidates.

Results for the Christian Ba'abda district in Mount Lebanon showed that three pro-Syrian Christians, a Shia Muslim and a Druze as well as a pro-Iranian Hizbollah candidate won seats in the 128-member national assembly.

The victory of the Hizbollah candidate, Ali Ammar, was the main surprise, as he defeated a pro-Syrian favourite.

Hizbollah, a rising force in Lebanon's internal political arena, astonished many when it won a landslide victory in last week's elections in eastern Lebanon. Four Hizbollah officials, including three clerics, and four allied candidates defeated a strong list of traditional leaders led by the House Speaker, Hussein Husseini.

'This is a victory for Islam, a victory for the resistance, a victory that we present to all our martyrs,' the Hizbollah-run Voice of Light radio said after the results were announced.

During yesterday's vote, Israeli warplanes attacked a Hizbollah post in south Lebanon and the militants detonated a bomb near a pro-Israeli militia patrol.