French President Francois Hollande called on Lebanese authorities Saturday to hold presidential elections in May as planned, regardless of the latest violence in Beirut that killed an influential critic of the Syrian regime.
President Michel Sleiman's mandate runs out on May 25 and there are fears that a successor will be hard to find because of huge disagreements between Lebanon's pro- and anti-Syria blocs.
"This escalation of violence which threatens Lebanon's unity must end," Hollande told influential pan-Arab newspaper Al-Hayat in an interview to be published Sunday.
"France calls for... the respect of the constitutional deadlines, especially the presidential election scheduled for May 2014," he said.
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Tensions have soared in Lebanon since the outbreak of the war in neighbouring Syria, as the Lebanese Shiite Hezbollah movement has sent troops to back the regime while their rivals in a Western-backed coalition have supported the Sunni-led rebels.
Hollande was due to travel to Saudi Arabia on Sunday for talks with King Abdullah and expected to discuss "the need to preserve stability in Lebanon", as well as the Syrian conflict and Iran's nuclear programme.
He also "called on all parties" to respect the mandate of the international tribunal trying the alleged killers, from January 16, of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri, who died in a bomb blast in 2005.
Lebanon's anti-Syria bloc has implied that Damascus and its Shiite ally Hezbollah were behind a car bomb Friday that killed seven people, including its member and former finance minister Mohammad Chatah.
Chatah had been Hariri's adviser.