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Lebanese President Warns Country On Verge Of Self-Destruction

BASSEM MROUE   06/24/08 03:51 PM ET   AP

Lebanon Fighting

BEIRUT, Lebanon — The Lebanese president warned Tuesday that the country's divisions have pushed it to the verge of self-destruction _ sounding an alarm to the rival factions amid renewed sectarian fighting.

Michel Suleiman spoke at a meeting of Lebanon's top 15 Christian and Muslim religious leaders, who convened at the presidential palace after two days of sectarian clashes in the northern city of Tripoli left eight people dead and 40 wounded.

Suleiman said the country's political and religious leaders must find a starting point to solve the crisis and heal the wounds.

It was not immediately clear whether the Tripoli clashes _ which erupted Sunday but subsided the following day _ were an isolated event or would spark further fighting. Lebanese troops were deployed there Monday.

The same area witnessed heavy fighting last month, when pro-government gunmen and militias loyal to the Shiite Hezbollah-led opposition clashed in the Lebanese mountains after Hezbollah militants overran streets in Beirut. The violence in May killed 81 and wounded more than 200 people, and was Lebanon's worst since the 1975-90 conflict.

Lebanon has 17 different religious sects and at least a dozen armed groups that exert some degree of military control over various parts of the country and the capital.

At Tuesday's meeting, Suleiman, who was elected president as part of a peace deal signed in Doha, Qatar, that ended the May fighting, told the religious leaders that "healing their wounds and repairing broken bridges between" Lebanese communities should be their goal.

"Differences among the Lebanese have reached the edge of suicide," said Suleiman.

The religious leaders also stressed the need for national unity, denouncing extremism and violence in a statement after the meeting and calling on rival factions to refrain from using weapons or violence to achieve political gains.

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Filed by Nick Graham  |