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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Lebanon Votes for 2 Key Lawmakers

APFormer Lebanese President Amin Gemayel casting his vote Sunday in Bikfaya. He is running for his slain son's seat.
BIKFAYA, Lebanon -- Army and police patrols stood guard Sunday as thousands of Lebanese went to polling stations to vote in a key election to replace two assassinated lawmakers.

Sunday's tense vote is taking place in two electoral districts, one in Beirut and the other in Lebanon's Metn region, a Christian stronghold where the community is deeply divided.

Voters will pick candidates to replace Pierre Gemayel, a Christian legislator and cabinet minister who was shot dead in November, and Walid Eido, a Sunni Muslim lawmaker who was killed in a Beirut car bomb in June. Both were allies of the U.S.-backed Lebanese government and vocal opponents of neighboring Syria.

The elections could escalate the country's political crisis because Prime Minister Fuad Saniora's Western-backed government called them without the required approval of President Emile Lahoud, who has blocked attempts to replace the lawmakers.

Lahoud is allied with the Hezbollah-led, pro-Syrian opposition, as is the parliament's speaker, Nabih Berri, who has said he will not recognize the results of the contests.

Mohammed al-Amin Itani, a candidate of the parliament majority leader Saad Hariri's Future Movement, is expected to easily win the contest for Eido's seat, because the Hezbollah-led opposition did not officially sponsor a candidate.

But in Metn, the vote for Gemayel's seat is a bitter contest between two candidates, including the assassinated politician's father. Amin Gemayel, who was president of Lebanon for much of the 1980s, has decided to compete for his son's seat on behalf of the ruling coalition. He faces off against Kamil Khoury, who is supported by Christian opposition leader Michel Aoun, a former army commander and prime minister.