Bush tells Syria to steer clear of Lebanese election

US President George  W. Bush on Tuesday used a Middle East peace conference to warn Syria’s government against interfering in Lebanon’s effort to elect a new president. Some 40 nations are attending the conference at the US Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland.

Toward the end of his remarks, Bush turned his attention to Lebanon, which has been divided by pro- and anti-Syrian factions. Bush urged the Arab world to let democracy prevail.

“The Lebanese people are in the process of electing a president. That decision is for the Lebanese people to make, and they must be able to do so free from outside interference and intimidation,” he said.

Lebanese presidents are elected by Parliament, not in direct elections.

“As they embark on this process,” Bush added, “the people of Lebanon can know that the American people stand with them and we look forward to the day when the people of Lebanon can enjoy the blessings of liberty without fear of violence or coercion.”

Delivering Lebanon’s address, acting Foreign Minister Tarek Mitri said Lebanon “rejected permanent resettlement of Palestinian refugees on its territory.”

“This is a question of national consensus which is stipulated in [the] Constitution, as it pertains to the very fabric and the specific identity of Lebanon,” he said.

Mitri also enlisted a series of issues of “vital concern,” such as the end of the Israeli occupation of the Shebaa Farms and the Kfar Shuba Hills and the northern part of Ghajar, the release of prisoners and detainees, the turning over of maps of Israeli minefields and cluster bombs in the South, the halting of Israeli territorial violations, and obstacles to Lebanon’s right to make use of its water resources.

“These questions must not be a subject of negotiations for their solutions are governed by the relevant UN Security Council Resolutions, more particularly Resolution 1701,” Mitri said.

Lebanon’s participation in a US-led Mideast conference has sparked debate among feuding opposition and loyalists.

Youth and Sports Minister Ahmad Fatfat expressed surprise at the stance adopted by the opposition.

“Why would they criticize Lebanon’s participation at the conference, but not Syria’s?” Fatfat asked during an interview with Voice of Lebanon.

The opposition has said that the current government has no right to attend the talks because it lacks legitimacy.

Hizbullah MP Hassan Fadlallah accused the government of “acting upon Bush’ orders and overlooking Lebanon’s rights.”

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