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UPDATED: 08:55, March 09, 2005
Bush says Syrian withdrawal must be done before Lebanese elections
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US President George W. Bush said on Tuesday that Syria must pull its troops out of Lebanon before the Lebanese parliamentary elections scheduled to be held in May.

"All Syrian military forces and intelligence personnel must withdraw before the Lebanese elections for these elections to be free and fair," Bush said in a speech at the National Defense University.

Expressing his belief that "Freedom will prevail in Lebanon," Bush said, "The American people are on your side."

Also on Tuesday, White House spokesman Scott McClellan told reporters that "Syria needs to get out of Lebanon. Syria needs to withdraw completely and as quickly as possible."

The spokesman downplayed a mass pro-Syria rally in Beirut led by the powerful Shiite movement Hezbollah, saying "We believe the Lebanese people aspire to live in freedom and aspire to control their own future."

Syria has been playing a dominant role in Lebanon for decades, and maintains 14,000 troops there. Pressure has been growing within Lebanon and from abroad for a complete military withdrawal.

The presidents of Syria and Lebanon announced on Monday that Syrian forces will pull back to Lebanon's eastern Bekaa Valley by March 31, but a complete troop withdrawal will be deferred until after later negotiations.

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