Bush urges Lebanon vote without Syria influence

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ABOARD AIR FORCE ONE, Nov 12 (Reuters) US President George W Bush today urged Lebanon to hold its already-delayed presidential election in line with its constitution and without allowing Syrian interference.

Bush, in a call to Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, reaffirmed support for his pro-Western government, the White House said after a parliamentary session to elect a new president was postponed for the third time.

The session was rescheduled from today to November 21 to give rival leaders more time to break a deadlock over a consensus candidate and end a crisis threatening the country's stability.

The term of pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud expires on November 23.

Electing a president is regarded as vital to resolving the year-old dispute that pits Siniora's government against the opposition led by the Syrian-backed Hezbollah.

The impasse has pushed Lebanon into its worst political crisis since the 1975-90 civil war and many Lebanese fear a failure to reach a deal could lead to two rival governments and bloodshed.

White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said Bush had reiterated to Siniora his support for the anti-Syrian ruling coalition, saying ''they should be able to elect a government free of any external interference, especially from Syria.'' ''He reconfirmed our position that elections must happen on time and according to Lebanon's constitution,'' Perino told reporters aboard Air Force One as Bush headed back to Washington after a long weekend at his Texas ranch.

The Bush administration has repeatedly accused Syria of meddling in Lebanon and of trying to destabilize its neighbor. Syria, which withdrew from Lebanon in 2005 after a 29-year military presence, denies it is interfering.

Bogged down in the Iraq war, Washington has long wanted Lebanon to serve as an example of emerging democracy in the region.

REUTERS SBA RAI0244

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