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Bush: Syrian Redeployment in Lebanon a Half Measure


President Bush says Syria must remove all of its troops from Lebanon, rejecting a redeployment of those troops closer to the Syrian border. Thousands of Syrians turned out in Damascus in support of President Bashar al-Assad.

President Bush repeated his call for a complete withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon, not the partial pull-back that President Assad has begun.

Speaking after a White House meeting with the Romanian president, Mr. Bush said he expects Damascus to fully comply with United Nations resolution 1559.

"President Assad has said he is removing to the Bekaa Valley. That is a half-measure. It is a measure, but it is a half-measure. And 1559 is very clear. We worked with France and the Security Council to pass 1559 which said complete removal, not half-measures, but total removal," the president said.

President Bush says Syrian troops and intelligence services should leave Lebanon before parliamentary elections in May to ensure that vote is free and fair.

Syrian diplomats say all troops will return home within two to three months. For now, those forces are continuing to redeploy from coastal and central Lebanon to areas closer to the Syrian border.

That pullback began Tuesday under considerable diplomatic pressure from the United States, the European Union and several Arab governments, including Saudi Arabia.

Much of that pressure began following the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Opposition politicians in Lebanon blame Syria for the killing. Both Damascus and the pro-Syrian government in Beirut deny involvement.

Tens of thousands of demonstrators turned out in Damascus Wednesday in a show of support for President Assad. The rally follows a much larger pro-Syrian demonstration in Beirut Tuesday.

That rally was organized by the Syrian and Iranian-backed Shi'ite militant group Hezbollah, which the United States government lists as a terrorist organization. Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah warned the United States not to interfere in Lebanon's internal affairs.

Speaking at National Defense University in Washington Tuesday, President Bush said the Lebanese government elected in May will have the help of the international community in building sound political, economic and military institutions so, Mr. Bush says, the country can move forward in security and freedom.