Bush warns Syria not to meddle in Lebanon election

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Washington, Oct 4: US President George W Bush warned Syria today not to interfere in Lebanon's presidential election. Trying to bolster the Western-backed government of Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora against pro-Syrian opponents, Bush also said he was sending one of his top military commanders to Lebanon to assess the needs of its security forces.

Bush used White House talks with Saad al-Hariri, the son and political heir of slain former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri, to keep up pressure on Damascus.

''The message has been sent to nations such as Syria that they should not interfere in the election of the president,'' Bush said following the meeting with Hariri, head of the Lebanese parliament's anti-Syrian majority.

''The international community has spoken, and we expect Syria to honor ... that demand,'' he said. Hariri told Bush, ''We will not let those who want to destroy our democracy succeed.'' Their talks came amid heightened tensions in Lebanon following the car-bomb assassination last month of Christian lawmaker Antoine Ghanem.

Ghanem was the seventh anti-Syrian politician killed in Lebanon since the 2005 murder of Rafik al-Hariri, whose death and that of others the pro-Western governing coalition blames on Syria. Damascus has consistently denied such accusations.

Lebanon is now caught up in a crisis that revolves around choosing a new president to succeed Emile Lahoud, a pro-Syrian figure whose term expires in November. Rifts between the governing coalition and the Hezbollah-led opposition have cast doubt on parliament's ability to choose a replacement.

The Bush administration, pressing a campaign of diplomatic isolation of Syria, has repeatedly accused it of trying to destabilize Lebanon. Damascus, which withdrew from Lebanon in 2005 after a 29-year military presence, denies this.

Bogged down in the Iraq war, Washington has long wanted Lebanon to serve as an example of emerging democracy in the region, but there have been plenty of setbacks.

Bush said he was sending Adm. William Fallon, head of the Central Command, responsible for the US military operations in the West Asia to Lebanon to ''assess how we can further help the government and the forces protect themselves from radical elements.'' Bush also voiced impatience over an international tribunal approved in May to try suspects in the Hariri assassination.

UN Secretary General Bank Ki-moon said last month he hoped to appoint judges by year-end.

''That tribunal is taking too long to get started,'' Bush said. ''The international community must work more quickly to stand up this tribunal so people will be held to account.''


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