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THE INDEX — June 8, 2009

The Western-backed "March 14" coalition has won a majority in Lebanese national elections held on Sunday, according to preliminary results. The anti-Syria coalition won a decisive victory against the opposition "March 8" coalition—gaining 70 seats in the 128-seat Parliament—in elections that were as much a battle between Lebanon’s polarized sects as they were a proxy battle between the United States and Iran. Hezbollah, the leader of the pro-Syria opposition alliance, conceded defeat and called upon the formation of a unity government, adding that the results “cannot change the standing delicate balances" that "led to catastrophes" in Lebanon. The Lebanese Daily Star reports that the electoral battle “was centered in Christian districts,” as the fate of 100 seats had been already decided in advance. Saad Hariri, the son of assassinated Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, led the victorious March 14 coalition, so named after a 2005 protest against Syrian forces in Lebanon. Analysts have estimated a 54 percent voter turnout rate, the highest amount of participation in more than 30 years. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez took further action against the nation’s only private television broadcaster, Globovision, by authorizing police raids of the station and the owner’s home. Venezuelan officials accused Globovision of failing to pay around $2.3 million in taxes dating back to 2002. On the same day, national guard troops and environmental agency authorities raided the home of Guillermo Zuloaga, Globovision’s president, who has a reputation as an avid hunter, as part of an investigation into whether he hunted protected animals. This is the second raid on Zuloaga’s home in two weeks; he is also facing charges of overpricing 24 cars at two of his Toyota dealerships and storing them illegally on personal property. Zuloaga has denied these accusations and believes he is being politically persecuted for leading Globovision, which is the last television news network to be independently owned. Despite Chavez's continued denials of any political motivation behind his actions, the United Nations released a statement in late May over concerns about the state of free expression in Venezuela.

The United Kingdom's Labour Party suffered record defeats during Monday's European Parliament elections, the latest blow to the ruling party in what has been an ugly few weeks of scandal and resignations. Collecting 15.7 percent of all votes—the lowest percentage in 100 years—Labour finished behind the Conservative Party and the UK Independence Party, which opposes the EU. Prime Minister Gordon Brown has been battered by recent scandals within his cabinet but has withstood pressure to step down thus far, although the election results may prompt further skepticism amongst his closest advisers. (Pensions Secretary James Purnell, who was involved in last week's cabinet reshuffle, told Brown in his resignation letter, "I now believe your continued leadership makes a Conservative victory more, not less, likely.") In a meeting with Labour leaders in Parliament on Monday, Brown is expected to make some concessions on issues such as Iraq and privatizing the postal system. But not all are down on the prime minister's prospects for redemption. Pointing to the relatively weak gains made by the Conservatives on Monday and the fact that the EU elections are designed to encourage third- and fourth-party participation, some say that Brown can save himself and his party before UK's general elections, which, barring any emergency, are scheduled for June 2010.

Russia banned the import of milk and dairy products from Belarus Saturday, a day after Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenko allegedly rejected a $500 million loan from Moscow that was contingent upon recognizing the independence of two Georgian breakaway provinces. Russia said the dairy products failed to meet the latest health regulations but Lukashenko believes the ban was a result of Moscow's desire to control Belarus milk factories and pressure the country into pro-Russia political positions. Lukashenko told the Russian media on Friday that Moscow offered him a solvency loan, a claim denied by the Russian finance minister, in exchange for Belarusian recognition of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Lukashenko said that political positions about the regions remain an issue to be decided by the Belarusian parliament alone. The milk development is the latest twist in the complicated relationship between the two former Soviet states. Since 2007, Russia has granted Belarus $3 billion in loans and has considered it to be “a reliable partner in resisting Western expansion,” according to The Moscow News.

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