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Bush: Lebanese Minister's Killers Are Opposed to Freedom


President Bush has condemned the assassination of Lebanese cabinet minister Pierre Gemayel, saying the world must reject those who use violence to weaken young democracies.

Speaking in Hawaii on his way home from a trip to Asia, President Bush says those responsible for the murder of Lebanese Industry Minister and Christian leader Pierre Gemayel displayed the vicious face of those who oppose freedom. "For the sake of peace, the free world must reject those who undermine young democracies and murder in the name of their hateful ideology," he said.

Mr. Bush accused Iran and Syria of promoting instability in Lebanon, but did not directly accuse those countries of involvement in Gemayel's murder.

U.S. Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, Nicholas Burns, speaking to reporters at the State Department, says the assassination is an effort to intimidate the democratic government in Beirut. "Obviously this is a very sad day for Lebanon. We are shocked by this assassination. We view it as an act of terrorism. We also view it as an act of intimidation against the March 14th coalition and we believe it is the responsibility of all countries to support the Siniora government and to oppose those who would try to divide Lebanon or return violence to political life in Lebanon," he said.

The March 14 pro-democracy movement was formed in Lebanon following the assassination last year of former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri.

A United Nations inquiry has implicated Syrian officials in Hariri's death. Pierre Gemayel is the latest in a number of anti-Syrian politicians who have been killed in Lebanon over the past two years.

Damascus denies any involvement in the killings.

Earlier this month, the White House released a statement charging there is mounting evidence that Syria and Iran are preparing plans to topple the elected government of Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora.

The Shi'ite Muslim movement Hezbollah, which is backed by Iran and Syria, is threatening mass demonstrations in Lebanon unless a so-called unity government is created that would give Hezbollah and its allies veto power over important decisions.

At the United Nations, U.S. Ambassador John Bolton called the murder of Pierre Gemayel a politically motivated assassination. "This is potentially a turning point in the history of that country, and therefore of the region. So we strongly support the Siniora government and all the democratic forces in Lebanon. We call on all states in the region to support the democratic government and urge everyone's cooperation in finding the assassins of Pierre Gemayel," he said.

Gemayel is from a family of prominent Lebanese politicians. His uncle, Bashir Gemayel, was assassinated in 1982 shortly after being elected president of the country.