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Bush Condemns Former Lebanese PM Hariri's Killing

President Bush has condemned the bomb blast in central Beirut that took the life of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. U.S. officials say those responsible will be held to account.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan says President Bush was shocked and angered by the news from Beirut.

Mr. McClellan calls the bombing a "despicable act." He says Rafik Hariri worked tirelessly to rebuild Lebanon following years of civil war and despite a continuing Syrian presence.

"His murder is an attempt to stifle these efforts to build an independent, sovereign Lebanon, free of foreign domination," Mr. McClellan said.

The White House spokesman says the Bush administration is talking to other countries, and is seeking a strong joint response to the bombing.

"The United States will consult with other governments in the region and on the Security Council today about measures that can be taken to punish those responsible for this terrorist attack, to end the use of violence and intimidation against the Lebanese people and to restore Lebanon's independence, sovereignty and democracy by freeing it from foreign occupation," Mr. McClellan said.

During a session with reporters, the president's spokesman made clear the United States will press for a withdrawal of Syrian forces from Lebanon. But he indicated the White House does not believe Syria was directly involved in the bombing, which hit in a busy seaside area and left devastation reminiscent of the long bloody Lebanese civil war.

"It is premature to know who is responsible for this attack, but we continue to be concerned about the foreign occupation in Lebanon," Mr. McClellan said. "We have expressed those concerns. Syria has had a military presence there for some time now. That is a concern of ours."

At the United Nations, Secretary-General Kofi Annan spoke of the fragile situation in the region, and the dangers of further destabilization. Mr. Annan said the bombings recall a chapter in Lebanon's history that he had hoped was long over.

Similar comments came from a number of world leaders from the Palestinian territories to the capitals of Europe. For French President Jacques Chirac, the death of Rafik Hariri was a personal loss. The two were old friends, and Mr. Chirac responded to the news by calling for an immediate international inquiry.