"I can confirm to the Lebanese that the elections will happen, beginning on 29 May," Parliament Speaker Nabih Birri said on Wednesday.

Aljazeera reports that the Lebanese Interior Ministry has signed a decree authorising the holding of the elections in three stages. The process is to begin on 29 May and end on 12 June.

The polls will be in line with the constitutional deadline. In the past, Lebanon held parliamentary elections in several rounds, stretching over several weeks.

The elections had been threatened with delay by the 14 February killing of former prime minister Rafiq al-Hariri, which threw Lebanon into its worst political crisis since the 1975-1990 civil war, and left the country with no government for seven weeks.

International calls

Lebanon has faced international calls to hold elections on time - by the end of May - when the term of the existing parliament, elected in 2000, is to expire.

Miqati's new cabinet won a vote
of confidence on Wednesday

Lebanon's anti-Syrian opposition had accused Syrian-backed officials of procrastinating to delay the polls, which they expect to give them a majority in the house now dominated by allies of Damascus.

Lebanon's new government won a vote of confidence in parliament by an overwhelming majority on Wednesday.

The new cabinet, led by wealthy businessman Najib Miqati, won 109 votes of confidence in the 128-member chamber.

Three lawmakers abstained and one voted against the new line-up. 

Aljazeera's correspondent in Beirut, Abbas Nasir, reported that parliament had extended its term of office for a further 20 days.

 

UN investigation

The cabinet formation comes as the United Nations is still seeking to find a leader for its major investigation into al-Hariri's assassination.

The UN Security Council on 7 April ordered an outside inquiry after a UN fact-finding mission, led by Irish Deputy Police Commissioner Peter Fitzgerald, concluded that Lebanon's own investigation into the killing had "serious flaws" and could not reach a credible conclusion.

About 50 people, including administrative and security staff, are expected to participate in the UN investigation.

Loss of momentum

Anne Patterson, the acting US ambassador to the UN, expressed concern that the inquiry would lose momentum if UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan did not appoint a team leader soon.

Annan has sent a team to Beirut
to prepare a larger investigation

"It has lagged a bit. We think it is critical not to lose momentum," she said.

"It has not been lost yet, but we want him to appoint someone as soon as possible. Fitzgerald did a great job on his report, and it is important it be sustained."

The UN is searching for someone fluent in French or Arabic, preferably both. At least two people have turned down the post, UN sources said.

In the meantime, Annan has sent a small team to Beirut to work with Lebanese authorities in preparing the larger investigation.