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US Blasts Lebanese Parliament's Extension of Presidential Term - 2004-09-03

The United States says the Lebanese parliament's decision Friday to extend the term of pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud made a "crude mockery of democratic principles." The action came despite U.N. Security Council approval late Thursday of a resolution, backed by the United States and France, upholding Lebanese sovereignty.

The resolution attracted only the minimum nine votes in the Security Council needed for passage. And the Lebanese parliament, as expected, ignored the U.N. appeal Friday and approved the constitutional amendment sought by Syria keeping Mr. Lahoud in office for another three years.

But the State Department insists that the exercise at the United Nations was worthwhile, in that it again put the international community on record opposing outside inference in Lebanese affairs.

The U.S. and French-sponsored measure called for the removal of remaining foreign forces from Lebanon, the disarming of militias, and for strict respect of Lebanon's sovereignty, territorial integrity, unity and political independence.

In pre-vote negotiations on the Security Council resolution, specific mention of the Syrian troop presence in Lebanon was removed.

However, State Department Spokesman Richard Boucher said the implication for Syria remains clear, and said the Damascus government should take the resolution seriously and allow Lebanese leaders to decide the country's future without interference.

"It's clear the Lebanese parliamentarians have been pressured and even threatened by Syria and its agents to make them comply," he said. "This makes a mockery of democratic principles and we would hope that they would be allowed to make their decision openly, fairly and in that way to have a free and fair presidential election process."

Another State Department official said the United States is "gravely concerned" that the will of the Lebanese people was circumvented by Syrian actions leading to Friday's vote.

The Lebanese parliament approved the constitutional change by several votes more than the required two-thirds majority, and both the Lebanese and Syrian governments condemned the U.N. resolution.

But Lebanese opposition politicians reiterated concern about Syrian meddling in Lebanese politics, backed up by the presence of some 16,000 Syrian troops in country's east and north.

Syria has kept its forces in Lebanon despite an obligation under the 1989 Taif accords to set a timetable for withdrawal, and despite Israel's pullout from southern Lebanon four years ago.