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Lebanon general election begings

LEBANON: Lebanese voters cast their ballots on Sunday in a high-stakes general election pitting a Western-backed coalition against an Iranian-backed alliance led by the Hezbollah militant group.

The 7:00 am to 7:00 pm (0400 GMT to 1600 GMT) vote was taking place amid heavy security measures with the army and police deployed in force throughout the country to prevent any outbreak of violence between the two camps.

More than 200 international observers from the European Union, the Carter Centre and other institutions and countries are overseeing the election.

At stake is whether Lebanon, a multi-confessional country scarred throughout its modern history by war and political instability, keeps on a pro-Western course or takes a tilt towards Iran.

The United States, which considers the Shiite Hezbollah to be a terrorist organisation, has already said continued aid to Lebanon hinges on which side emerges victorious. Analysts and pollsters predict a tight race for the 128-seat parliament, with the winner clinching victory by just a few seats.

A handful of key battleground constituencies are likely to be crucial in determining the outcome, with the Christian vote, which is divided between the two camps, set to tip the scale.

Both the current majority and the opposition have poured millions into the campaign, flying in thousands of their constituents from overseas amid expectations that their ballots could be a deciding factor in a tight race.

The Lebanese independent daily Al Anwar said the vote was taking place amid deep political divisions that had led to ominous warnings.

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