The Lebanese opposition also has been pressing for changes to what it regards as an unfavourable electoral law. 

On Wednesday, Lahoud called on parliament to ratify a new election law, refusing to carry out the polls according to the 2000 election law, which he said caused instability.

Speaking to Aljazeera from Beirut,
presidential media adviser Rafiq Shalala said after the intense political dispute about the 2000 law, the president was using his constitutional right to inform parliament that the law would encour-age favouritism among Lebanese.

Deflecting suggestions that Lahoud's move was a victory for the opposition, Shalala said: "It is neither a matter of victory nor defeat.

 

"It is an issue related to a constitutional responsibility that the president has the right to draw the attention of the parliament when there have been basic and dangerous issues that could create a schism in the country and threaten its unity."

 

Constituency boundaries

 

Opposition parties want revisions to the constituency boundaries established for the last elections in 2000, and after a five-day parliamentary recess for public holidays, Wednesday will be their last opportunity to change the law. 

 

"The 2000 electoral law is the worst. It was passed under Syrian tutelage in order to guarantee the control of the Syrian-Lebanese intelligence services over the Lebanese parliament"

Nayla Muawad, opposition member of parliament

But so far Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, seen as pro-Syrian, has rebuffed calls for a debate.

"It is all in Berri's hands," Christian opposition member of parliament Nayla Muawad said.

"The 2000 electoral law is the worst. It was passed under Syrian tutelage in order to guarantee the control of the Syrian-Lebanese intelligence services over the Lebanese parliament," she said.

An earlier attempt by the opposition to put forward amendments in a parliamentary committee last Thursday failed as they could not get a quorum.

Deadline pressure

Most opposition MPs say they would prefer the elections to go ahead on schedule later this month, as required by the constitution, rather than delay them for the sake of changing the boundaries. 

The opposition is "determined to safeguard the elections and agrees they must be held on time", Druze MP Ghazi Aridi said.

Michel Aoun says it is treason to
work with the 2000 election law

"We will go into the elections united, whichever law is adopted," Muawad added.

But some Christian politicians have said they would rather delay the elections than see them held under the current constituency boundaries.

Former interim prime minister Michel Aoun, driven into exile by Syrian troops in 1990, accused opposition leaders ready to work with the 2000 law of treason. 

Opposition split

Supporters of Aoun, who is planning a triumphant homecoming from France on Saturday after the departure of Syrian forces last month, have split with other opposition parties on other issues. 

On Monday night, Sunnis, Druze and one Christian faction dismantled tents in Beirut's central Martyrs' Square where they had been staging a round-the-clock protest for the past two and a half months. 

The Freedom Camp had become the symbol of the wave of opposition protests that swept the country after the assassination of five-time prime minister Rafiq al-Hariri in a February bomb blast widely blamed on Syria and its supporters in Lebanon. 

But Aoun's supporters rejected the other factions' argument that the aims of the camp had been achieved and announced they would maintain their presence. 

Syrian clarification

Meanwhile, a preliminary investigation has shown that Syrian troops deployed in a border area are on Syrian soil, not Lebanese land, officials said. 

A report said Syrian troops were
on Syrian, not Lebanese, soil

"The security services concerned
informed Prime Minister Najib M
iqati this evening of the preliminary results of the verification process of Syrian troops deployed in the eastern border region of Dair al-Ashair and Kfar Quq," Miqati's office said.

"The verification showed that these positions are inside Syrian territory," the statement added, a day before Miqati was to visit Damascus. 

On Monday, Miqati said in the French newspaper Le Monde that Syrian troops were still deployed in Dair al-Ashair, inside Lebanese territory. 

A UN team is already at work verifying the pullout.