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Leave Lebanon, Bush tells straying Syria

Washington, Feb. 17 (Reuters): President George W. Bush demanded Syria pull troops from Lebanon today in the wake of the killing of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri and said he would seek support from European leaders next week to put more pressure on Damascus.

'Syria is out of step with the progress being made in the greater West Asia,' Bush said.

He added that it was too early to conclude that Syria had a role in killing Hariri. Washington has used the outrage prompted by the assassination to intensify pressure it was already bringing on Damascus to withdraw from Lebanon.

Bush said Washington expected Syria to adhere to UN Security Council resolution 1559, which calls for the removal of the Syrian troops, and said: 'We expect them to help free and fair elections to take place in Lebanon.'

Hariri was killed on Monday in a bombing that many Lebanese say Syria was involved. Damascus has denied involvement, but the event has contributed to a rapid deterioration in US relations with Syria.

After the bombing Bush recalled the US ambassador to Syria, Margaret Scobey, for urgent consultations. Asked at his news conference whether Syria had a hand in the killing, he said: 'I don't know yet, because the investigation is ongoing.' Bush goes to Brussels next week to meet EU and Nato leaders. He said he would use the meetings to rally pressure against Damascus.

'I look forward to working with my European friends on my upcoming trip to talk about how we can work together to convince the Syrians to make rational decisions,' he said.

The bombing came at a sensitive time for US policy in West Asia, as Washington tries to steer Iraq into a full-blown democracy and help Israel and the Palestinians reach a peace agreement. 'Democracy is on the move, and this is a country that is not moving with the democratic movement,' Bush said.

Bush imposed some economic sanctions against Syria in May, and other steps under consideration include restrictions to isolate Syria's banks and bar US financial institutions from dealing with them.

Bush may freeze the assets of Syrian officials. The administration also was debating whether US troops could cross the Syrian border from Iraq in 'hot pursuit' of insurgents.

Bush said Syria must make sure its territory is not used by Iraqi insurgents, 'and we expect them to find and turn over former Saddam regime supporters, send them back to Iraq.'

He added: 'We've made it very clear from the beginning of my administration that Syria should not use its territory to support international terrorist groups.'

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