Lebanon's president was among the voters who cast ballots early Sunday in the nation's hotly contested parliamentary elections.
After President Michel Suleiman voted in his hometown, north of Beirut,
he told reporters that democracy is "a blessing that distinguishes
Lebanon in the Middle East."
Sunday's election pits the current U.S.-backed majority in Lebanon's
parliament against a coalition led by the Shi'ite militant group
Hezbollah, which is supported by Iran and Syria.
The outcome could determine the country's future alliances.
Opinion polls are predicting a close race for the 128 parliament seats,
with only a few seats likely to separate the two main camps.
Security is tight, with some 50,000 soldiers and police deployed across the country to prevent violence.
Election results are expected Monday.
On Saturday, Lebanese Interior Minister Ziad Baroud said officials have
complete faith that the elections will take place without problems. He
downplayed accusations of unfair election tactics, and he emphasized
that high-tech security features on national identification cards will
prevent people from using false ID cards at the polls.
Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, who is co-leading a team of
election observers, said he hopes everyone will accept the results of
the poll, no matter who wins.
Also Saturday, the leader of Lebanon's Maronite Christian Church,
Patriarch Nasrallah Sfeir, warned the country faces a threat to its
identity. In February, he said it could be dangerous if Hezbollah wins
On a recent visit to Lebanon, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden indicated
that Washington may reconsider its military aid to Lebanon if Hezbollah
and its allies win control of the government. The United States
considers Hezbollah a terrorist group.
More than 3.2 million Lebanese are eligible to vote, and officials say
thousands of Lebanese expatriates have returned to the country to cast