Former Lebanon warlord to stand for president

Geagea was the only Lebanese civil war leader to be jailed, but was released under an amnesty in 2005

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Former Lebanon warlord Samir Geagea, a staunch opponent of Syria and the Shiite movement Hezbollah, will stand for the presidency in May, his Christian Lebanese Forces party said on Friday.

Geagea, 61, was the only leader from the 1975-1990 civil war ever jailed, but was released under an amnesty in 2005 after Syria withdrew from Lebanon, ending 30 years of domination over its tiny neighbor.

Syria ended its military and political dominance under popular Lebanese and international pressure, but it continues to exert significant influence through allies, mainly Hezbollah.

Geagea is one of Hezbollah's key opponents in Lebanon, and has repeatedly demanded that the movement, which never disarmed after the 15-year civil war, hand in its weapons.

He has also expressed support for the revolt against President Bashar al-Assad and denounced Hezbollah's involvement in the deadly conflict, which is now in its fourth year.

Last month, Geagea's Lebanese Forces refused to join a new government finally formed after 10 months of political wrangling, citing Hezbollah's involvement in Syria and its controversial arsenal.

Lebanese Forces deputy Georges Edwan announced Geagea's candidacy, saying the party's decision to back him is based on an "urgent need for radical change now".

The war in Syria has exacerbated sectarian tensions in Lebanon as the conflict has spilled over into the Mediterranean country.

Hundreds of people have been killed over the past three years in clashes and bombings, including a recent spate of car bomb attacks targeting mostly Hezbollah strongholds.

The situation has been further strained as the number of refugees from Syria has hit the one million mark in Lebanon, a country of fragile resources and a native population of just four million.

Geagea hopes to take over from President Michel Sleiman whose six-year term ends on May 25 and who was the first head of state voted in after Syria withdrew in 2005.

Under the constitution, parliament chooses a president within a two-month period before the end of the incumbent's term.

Lebanese media have in recent weeks identified other presidential hopefuls as ex-president Amin Gemayel, MPs Boutros Harb and Robert Ghanem, who are like Geagea members of the March 14 anti-Syria movement.

Other potential candidates are Hezbollah allies Michel Aoun, a Christian leader and former army chief, and MP Suleiman Frangiyeh.

Lebanese presidents are always chosen from the Christian Maronite community.

Geagea spent 11 years in jail before being released in July 2005.

He was arrested in 1994 in connection with a deadly bomb attack on a church. He was cleared in that case but handed four death sentences which were later commuted to life imprisonment for offences committed during the civil war which killed some 150,000 people.

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