Pro-Syrian Elected Lebanese Speaker

Lebanon's (search) new parliament overwhelmingly re-elected a pro-Syrian as speaker Tuesday in a political compromise by the anti-Syrian coalition that won the elections, the first conducted without Syrian influence in 30 years.

Ninety of the 128 legislators voted for Nabih Berri (search) in a secret ballot. Another 37 lawmakers cast blank votes in what was seen as a protest against Berri. One vote went to Bassem Sabei, an anti-Syrian lawmaker.

After the balloting, the eldest legislator, Edmond Naim, 87, announced the result, saying: " I declare president Nabih Berri president of the parliament."

The legislators clapped loudly for Berri, who has been speaker since 1992 and is the leader of the Shiite Amal party.

Outside the parliament, fireworks and gunfire reverberated across Beirut.

In accepting Berri, the anti-Syrian coalition seems to be conserving its political capital for the parliament's next moves: the selection of a prime minister and the bigger battle expected over the composition of the Cabinet.

The coalition has to win the approval of President Emile Lahoud (search), a Syrian ally, for the Cabinet's composition. He is expected to try to ensure that his camp has a place in the Cabinet.

Lahoud will shortly start polling lawmakers on their choice of prime minister. Under the constitution he must accept whoever has the most support, but he is free to approve or veto the Cabinet that the premier-designate puts together.

In the staggered elections that ended on June 19, the coalition won a majority in the 128-member parliament. It is led by Saad Hariri and the Druse leader Walid Jumblatt.

If the coalition had opposed Berri's re-election, it would have entailed a political fight with Amal and its Shiite rival, Hezbollah, which together hold 36 seats in parliament.

Three names are being mentioned as likely prime ministers: former finance minister Fuad Saniora, former justice minister Bahij Tabbara and the current caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati, a pro-Syrian who is seen as a compromise candidate. Saniora and Tabbara are close to Saad Hariri, a leader of the coalition and the son of slain former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

Syria withdrew the last of its troops from Lebanon in April, ending 29 years of military presence in the country during which Damascus exercised considerable influence over Lebanese political life.