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Bush rejects calls to replace secretary

WASHINGTON -- Pulling rank, President Bush yesterday rebuffed recommendations from a growing number of retired generals that he replace Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld. ''He has my full support," said the commander in chief.

Bush said Rumsfeld's stewardship at the Pentagon was crucial for the United States.

''Earlier today, I spoke with Don Rumsfeld about ongoing military operations in the global war on terror," the president said. ''I reiterated my strong support for his leadership during this historic and challenging time for our nation."

Bush's strong endorsement, conveyed in a statement released by the White House while Bush was at Camp David, Md., for the weekend, appeared designed to blunt a rising clamor from within the ranks of retired commanders for Rumsfeld's ouster.

Six retired generals have called for Rumsfeld to resign, accusing him of mishandling the Iraq war, ignoring advice of field commanders, and having an arrogant management style.

Rumsfeld has rejected all such calls, while noting that Bush had twice turned down his offers to resign.

Meanwhile, in an interview aired yesterday on Al-Arabiya television, Rumsfeld said he intended to continue serving.

''The fact that two or three or four retired people have different views, I respect their views," Rumsfeld said. ''But obviously if, out of thousands and thousands of admirals and generals, if every time two or three people disagreed we changed the secretary of defense of the United States, it would be like a merry-go-round."

A senior administration official said Bush considered a formal statement was warranted given the ''type of voices" engaged in the most recent criticism of Rumsfeld. The official spoke on condition of anonymity.

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