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Democrats Criticize Bush Over Lebanon Evacuation

As the United States intensifies its efforts to get Americans out of Lebanon, the Bush administration has defended the handling of evacuations against criticism from some opposition Democrats in Congress.

Some Americans in Lebanon, and their families in the U.S., have complained about what they call the slowness of the U.S. government response.

On Capitol Hill Tuesday, Democratic leaders in the House and Senate took aim at the handling of evacuations saying things have moved much too slowly.

"I think it is too bad that this is being treated like a mini-Katrina," said Harry Reid, the Senate Minority Leader. "These people are just being stranded in Lebanon and that is not a good reaction by this government."

In response, State Department officials and the White House say the situation in Lebanon is complex, requiring careful preparation and logistical coordination.

"It takes time to move ships into port as rapidly as possible," said White House spokesman Tony Snow. "What you can say is they have doubled the number helicopters that are in [Lebanon]. This is an unusual circumstance, because two of the three most likely ways to get people out by road and by air really are largely unavailable. So now you have naval transport and they are moving as rapidly as they can."

There was also criticism Tuesday that Americans being evacuated are being asked to sign a form agreeing to compensate the U.S. government for costs.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi says any such requirements should be waived considering the situation in Lebanon.

"This is not anything that the State Department foresaw a day before it happened, much less Congress foreseeing a year or so in advance," said Ms. Pelosi. "The number of people involved here, the nature of the hostilities, are such that the urgency demands that these people be evacuated and they not have to pay their fare out."

White House spokesman Snow told reporters the requirement for evacuees to agree to compensate the government was part of U.S. law having been approved by Congress in legislation authorizing spending on foreign relations spending.

House Minority Pelosi says Congress never intended that Americans would be impeded or have additional worries trying to escape a dangerous situation because of a requirement to repay the government.