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Protesting the election of a Syrian-backed president, loyalists of Christian leader Gen. Michel oun manhandled the spiritual leader of Lebanon's main Christian sect Monday.

Maronite Catholic patriarch Nasrallah Sfeir was forced to kiss a poster of Aoun after about 100 young Aoun supporters stormed his compound shortly after midnight and ransacked it, police said.A general strike to protest parliament's move Sunday - which had Sfeir's blessing - paralyzed the country's Christian enclave, where Aoun supporters took to the streets firing in the air.

After the unprecedented one-hour assault on his compound in Bkirki, north of Beirut, the 68-year-old Sfeir fled to his summer residence in Diman in Syrian-controlled northern Lebanon, his office said in a statement.

It said a 40-man army unit of Aoun's troops assigned to protect the patriarch made no effort to stop the protesters.

"The rioters broke into the patriarch's bedroom, dragged him out of bed, forced him to kneel with two senior aides who rushed to help him and forced them all to kiss posters of Aoun," a police spokesman said.

The spokesman said other Aoun supporters stormed into at least six other churches in the Christian enclave early Monday.

The unrest flared hours after parliamentary deputies, forced out of Beirut after Aoun threatened to shell them, convened at the Kleiat airbase in Syrian-policed northern Lebanon and elected Maronite deputy Rene Mouawad to head a national reconciliation government.

In Washington, President Bush warmly welcomed the election of Mouawad and urged all Lebanese to back his efforts to end the 14-year civil war.