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Key players in Lebanon's future take their place

Another Hariri is named Prime Minister, two crucial posts are filled and minimal — though worrying — violence is quelled.

Lebanese soldiers stop vehicles at a checkpoint, at the area of a clash that happened in Beirut on Sunday between supporters of the pro-Syrian Amal Movement led by Shiite parliament speaker Nabih Berri and the anti-Syrian Saad Hariri's Future movement, June 29, 2009. The Lebanese army said on Sunday it would open fire on any armed person appearing on the streets, after a brief clash between supporters of rival political factions in western Beirut killed one person. (Sharif Karim/Reuters)

BEIRUT — Celebratory gunfire and fireworks filled the sky in Beirut over the weekend as billionaire businessman and Lebanese politician Saad Hariri received 86 votes in the 128 seat parliament to be chosen as Lebanon’s new prime minister.

Hariri, 39, will now assume the post his father held for more than nine years before he was killed in a massive car bomb in 2005 that caused Saad to leave his position as head of the family business and assume his father’s political mantle.

"We will begin consultations with all parliamentary blocs," Hariri said after meeting with Lebanese President Michel Suleiman to formalize his position as prime minister designate on Saturday.

Hariri spent the rest of the weekend winding through the streets of Beirut in a convoy of black and white armored SUV’s, visiting Lebanon’s living former prime ministers. Sunday and Monday he met with politicians of all stripes in preparation for the horse trading that will eventually lead to the formation of a new cabinet.

But his biggest meeting was last week, with his former adversaries: Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, Nabih Berri and Michel Aoun (all of whom head parties that belong to a coalition known as March 8).

These meetings came as news reports circulated of continued reconciliation between long-standing regional enemies Syria and Saudi Arabia. Syria backs the Shiite Islamist group Hezbollah and their Christian allies in March 8. Saudi Arabia, along with the U.S., backs the Sunni Hariri and his Christian and Druze allies in the so-called March 14 coalition.

March 14 won the Lebanese elections on June 7, garnering 71 seats to March 8’s 57.

The vote seemed to result in reconciliation in Beirut until Sunday night, when Hariri’s Future Movement Party members fought running gun battles with March 8 supporters not far from Hariri’s mansion in Beirut.

One woman was killed and the Lebanese army deployed to prevent the fighting from spreading. Some Lebanese news agencies attributed the unusual outbreak of violence to the heightened tensions caused by the celebratory gun fire both sides have been unleashing since last Thursday, when Berri, the leader of the March 8 party Amal, was reelected as speaker of the Parliament for the fourth time.

The clashes were reminiscent of the fighting that took place in May 2008, when March 8 gunmen took over west Beirut, leaving dozens dead. Lebanese canceled Sunday night plans, and television news updated the breaking news. On Monday, at least 15 Lebanese Army armored vehicles were seen posted to the areas where the fighting took place. Later in the evening a dozen armored personnel carriers rolled down Hamra street, a major thoroughfare in the city, a scene not seen here since last spring’s violence.