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Lebanon's former Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri greets his supporters after casting his ballot at a polling station during Beirut's municipal elections, Lebanon, May 8, 2016. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir

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By Lisa Barrington

BEIRUT (Reuters) - A list backed by mainstream Lebanese parties has won Beirut municipality elections, its leader said early on Monday, seeing off a challenge by an independent movement that had sought to galvanise voters angry with political paralysis.

Turnout for the first election in Lebanon in six years was around 20 percent, local media said, with polling stations on Sunday heavily guarded by armed state security personnel.

Prime Minister Tamam Salalm put the poor turnout down to the politicised and uncertain atmosphere.

"In particular people did not believe the elections would go ahead and did not prepare themselves," he said in an interview with As-Safir newspaper published on Monday.

Parliamentary elections scheduled for 2013 have been postponed twice due to political instability exacerbated by the war in neighbouring Syria. Municipal elections are due to be held in other areas of the country over the next two weeks.

Media reported a decisive victory for the "Beirutis" list, headed by Jamal Itani, after his announcement, based on initial results. Final results were to be announced later on Monday.

The list was backed by established groups including the Future Movement of Sunni Muslim politician Saad al-Hariri, a former prime minister.

It saw off the challenge by the recently formed "Beirut Madinati" movement that emerged from a wave of public anger last summer over the government's failure to solve a waste disposal crisis that resulted in rubbish piling up around the city.

Beirut Madinati campaigners said the momentum created by their campaign was in itself a victory. The movement has sought to challenge the political parties that have long dominated the Lebanese state.

"We are the winners, this atmosphere you see, these young people who are all about hope, life, hope in the Beirut that we dream of, this is what we have won," film director Nadine Labaki, a Beirut Madinati candidate, told New TV.

A monitoring group said there had been a big increase in irregularities compared with the last election, included vote buying, violence and a report of an official interfering with voting to help one of the party lists.

The Lebanese Association for Democratic Elections said 647 irregularities were recorded in Beirut and the Bekaa valley, which also went to the polls on Sunday, compared with 314 in the same two areas in 2010.

The monitoring group said it had observed a significant decline in the standard of the electoral process, with polling stations ill prepared and chaos in sorting and transporting ballot papers.

(Reporting by Lisa Barrington; Additional reporting by John Davison; Writing by Tom Perry; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)

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