-- The anti-Syrian opposition captured control of Lebanon's parliament Monday, breaking Damascus's long domination of its tiny neighbor, and now must turn to healing the sectarian tensions that peaked during the campaign.
Men, women and children waved flags and danced in the streets of the northern city of Tripoli, while here in the capital cheering opposition supporters drove through the city cheering and honking in celebration.
Interior Minister Hassan Sabei declared that opposition candidates had won all 28 seats in northern Lebanon in Sunday's balloting, the fourth and final round of national elections, which were held by region. "The north has decided the character of the new parliament and given the absolute majority to the opposition," the opposition leader Saad Hariri said at a news conference before the official results were released.
Asked whether he would seek to become prime minister, Hariri, 35, a Sunni Muslim and the son of the slain former prime minister Rafiq Hariri, said he would consult his political allies. The Feb. 14 killing of Rafiq Hariri galvanized the movement to oust Syrian troops from the country.
Saad Hariri's Future Movement needed to win at least 21 of the 28 seats at stake in northern Lebanon after Christian leader Michel Aoun and his allies denied the opposition a majority by making a strong showing in last week's voting in central Lebanon. Hariri said he would negotiate with other blocs in the 128-member parliament to broaden his alliance.
"We have to maintain dialogue with everybody. We will not close the door on anyone," Hariri said. Aoun, who returned from 15 years of exile in May but broke with the anti-Syrian alliance to form his own candidate list, said he would sit in opposition.
The election was marred by allegations of vote-buying and other shortcomings. The head of the European Union's observers, Jose Ignacio Salafranca, said his team had "directly witnessed a few attempts at vote-buying" in the three previous rounds of voting. He also said the electoral system needed "very serious reform to be closer to the democratic standards."
However, the interior minister said the elections were "free, honest and neutral."
[U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, on a tour of the Middle East, told al-Arabiya television that Lebanon had conducted the elections in a "respectful way," the Reuters news agency reported.]
Meanwhile, Russia, a traditional ally of Syria, called on the new government to work for unity after the divisions and renewed sectarian tensions of recent months.
A spokesman for the Russian Foreign Ministry, Alexander Yakovenko, also said that the government should develop "good neighborly and equal" relations with Syria.
The latest developments capped months of political upheaval. Mass anti-Syria protests sparked by Hariri's murder forced the Syrian army to withdraw from Lebanon in April after a 29-year presence, but Damascus maintained influence in the legislature.
The opposition has blamed Syria and Lebanese security elements loyal to Damascus for blowing up Rafiq Hariri's motorcade, killing him and 20 others on a Beirut street. Syria has denied involvement.
While the victory ends Syria's long hold on the country, the opposition still must deal with President Emile Lahoud, a staunch Syrian ally who has rejected calls to step down.
The parliament also must elect a speaker, nominate a prime minister and approve a cabinet. The new government will confront high debt, a U.N. investigation into Hariri's assassination and a U.N. demand for disarming militias -- a reference to the anti-Israeli guerrilla group Hezbollah.
Prime Minister Najib Mikati's government was to move into a caretaker capacity late Monday, when the outgoing parliament's mandate ended.
The anti-Syrian faction will also have to work with other legislative blocs. Out of 100 seats decided in previous rounds of voting that began on May 29, Aoun and his allies, who ran on an anti-corruption ticket, had 21 seats. The pro-Syrian Shiite Muslim groups Amal and Hezbollah, along with their allies, won 35 seats.