|Year 2001 No. 170, October 9, 2001||ARCHIVE||HOME||SEARCH||SUBSCRIBE|
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Two thousand protesters marched on Downing Street from Trafalgar Square at 7.00 pm last night to register their opposition to the aggression against Afghanistan. Prominent were contingents from the Stop the War coalition, and the Socialist Alliance.
They heard a variety of speakers call for an immediate halt to the bombing, including Tony Benn, Bruce Kent, Mike Marqusee of the Stop the War coalition and lawyer Nick Wrack of Socialist Alliance.
At Downing Street they joined a determined demonstration around 400-strong, which had been hearing speeches, shouting slogans, and singing songs from 6.00 pm. Included in this demonstration were protesters from the organisation Arrow (Active Resistance to the Roots of War). This demonstration also focused on the role of women. A prominent banner read: "Mothers, daughters, sisters, wives, Fighting for their loved ones lives". Another banner read: "Pay women, not the military". Placards were carried, such as: "Every day, 35,000 children in the world die from starvation." Leaflets were distributed, including RCPB(ML)s statement in yesterdays WDIE denouncing the Anglo-American aggression and calling for a just and peaceful solution.
In Parliament Square, a CND demonstration, with protesters carrying placards, stood opposite parliament as it held an emergency session on the military strikes.
The size and variety of the demonstrations showed the depth of anti-war feeling in the country. At the same time, the outrageous police presence and their threatening behaviour showed both how the state is very concerned at the peoples movement against the "war on terrorism", and how it is stepping up reaction and criminalising political protest and dissent. It is now commonplace that demonstrations are penned up behind barriers and surrounded by a phalanx of police, as though the people were the "extremists" or "potential terrorists". It makes a mockery of Tony Blairs protestations about "freedom and democracy". The government is clearly restricting freedom of association, of movement and of speech, while refusing the people any say in the decision-making, without so much as a reference to any mandate for sending the country to war. What kind of "freedom and democracy" is this?
Protests also took place in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Birmingham, Bridgend, Bristol, Cambridge, Cardiff, Luton, Manchester, Newcastle, Sheffield and other cities.
The Prime Minister made another statement to the House of Commons on Monday, October 8, on its third recall since September 11.
He informed the House of Commons that a second wave of attacks against Afghanistan was under way. In time, he said, they will be supported by other actions.
Tony Blair said that in addition to Britain France, Germany, Australia and Canada have all pledged military support. He referred also to the contribution that Germany is already making, under Chancellor Schroeder, by taking over the leadership of the NATO mission in Macedonia, and thus freeing up other allied resources for use in Afghanistan. Tony Blair said that Prime Minister Aznar of Spain had pledged his full commitment and indicated his readiness to provide military support. Of course NATO is giving its full support, he said. Tony Blair said: "Today the North Atlantic Council agreed the redeployment of five AWACS aircraft to free up United States assets so that they can participate in this operation. We anticipate that NATO will shortly agree the redeployment of standing naval forces on the same basis."
The Prime Minister said that the European Union is fully supportive. Russia has issued a strong statement calling for decisive action against the evil of terrorism. China has encouraged efforts to combat terrorism, calling for military strikes to be targeted at specific objectives. The Japanese Prime Minister and government have given their full support. Pakistan is providing help in terms of intelligence, logistic support and airspace. Prime Minister Vajpayee of India, Tony Blair said, has given assurances of the Indian Government's support for efforts to combat international terrorism.
Tony Blair, for his own reasons, alleged that the Taleban regime will be eager to spread false propaganda. The Prime Minister denigrated the regime by referring to their "lie machine". He gratuitously insulted them by alleging that they lie about the coalition's motivation. Tony Blair asserted that their aim is to foment conflict between Islam and the west; it is to present themselves as champions of the Muslim world against the United States of America. It is to say that we are anti-Islam. Now posing as an expert on Islam, Tony Blair said that to kill as those terrorists did is utterly foreign to all the teachings of the Koran, and to justify it by saying that such murder of the innocent is doing the will of God is to defame the good name of Islam. He did not cite where the Taleban or anyone else is making those justifications, while he himself is presenting justifications for military strikes on Afghanistan. He quoted Osama bin Laden: "God Almighty hit the US at its most vulnerable spot. He destroyed its greatest buildings and filled the country with terror. Praise be to God." But whereas Osama bin Laden attributes acts of terror to God, as others have done, this does not prove Tony Blairs allegations of his "wickedness or his murderous intent", even if that were the issue.
Tony Blair reiterated an argument that suggests that Britain has the right to intervene anywhere in the world because Tony Blair judges the government to be unjust. He said: "We acted against Milosevic because what he was doing the humanitarian catastrophe that he was inflicting on them was unjust."
Tony Blair referred to the 5,000 tonnes of food that went into Afghanistan during the last fortnight, thanks to the efforts of the United Nations and other international agencies. At the UN meeting in Geneva over the weekend, donors pledged $600 million, including the United Kingdom's own commitment of $55 million. "We will do all that we can to help refugees from the Taleban regime. All we ask them to do," he said with an added insinuation as to the actions of the Afghanistan government, "is not to stop that help getting through to those refugees." As some commentators have pointed out, it makes strange humanitarian sense to drop both bombs and then food on the Afghan people.
Tony Blair warned: "We are in this for the long haul. Even when al-Qaida is dealt with, the job will not be over. The network of international terrorism is not confined to it." He explained that this is why it is essential to stand with the US and other allies in this fight.
Again Tony Blair asserted that the terrorist attack was an attack on civilised values everywhere. He all along assumes that "we in Britain" share the "civilised values" he is referring to. However, to oppose terrorism is not the same as to share the same values as Tony Blair, whatever these may be. But his spurious argument leads Tony Blair to say that "this military action we are undertaking is not for a just cause alone, though this cause is just. It is to protect our country, our people, our economy, our way of life. It is not a struggle remote from our everyday British concerns; it touches them intimately."
As Bush has done, Tony Blair asserts that this military action can be defined as "self-defence". "We will defend ourselves and our very reluctance to use force means that, when we do, we do so with complete determination that we shall prevail." It may be considered strange that a government which is very reluctant to use force should have been the only country to join with the US in all its military adventures, such as the bombing of Iraq and Yugoslavia
Tony Blair's war cabinet is meeting after a second night of military strikes against Afghanistan.
Twenty US warplanes and naval forces firing Tomahawk cruise missiles attacked targets across Afghanistan. Another 37,000 packages of humanitarian food rations were also being air-dropped over the country. Doctors at Wazir Akbar Khan Hospital said four people were killed when three bombs were dropped on the capital Kabul. A Taleban-linked news agency said a 400-bed women's hospital in Kabul had been bombed but made no mention of any damage.
The strikes were unleashed as it was confirmed that British journalist Yvonne Ridley, arrested for illegally entering the country, had been released by the Taleban and handed over to Pakistani officials. Unlike the first night of action, British forces were not involved in the raids, thought to have hit targets around Kabul, Mazar-e-Sharif and Kandahar.
However, their future role seemed certain to be under discussion as Tony Blair convened his war cabinet for the first time. Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott; Chancellor Gordon Brown; Foreign Secretary Jack Straw; Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon; Chief of Defence Staff Admiral Sir Michael Boyce; Home Secretary David Blunkett; Leader of the Commons Robin Cook; and International Development Secretary Clare Short were appointed to the inner circle.
Geoff Hoon had yesterday confirmed that plans were being drawn up to send in ground troops possibly including a British force in the wake of the air strikes.
The Defence Secretary said the fight against terrorism has only just begun and that the Taleban has had every chance to avoid the air strikes. The Chief of Defence staff said that Britain and the US military had taken enormous care over target selection to avoid civilian casualties. There were 30 targets 23 in "very remote" areas.
Geoff Hoon said military action is only part of the wider response to the terrorist attacks. He refused to say whether British Tornado bombers would join the attacks, but did reveal RAF reconnaissance aircraft were on the way to help. NATO has also agreed to send airborne early warning aircraft, he said. He said the strikes were not necessarily aimed at helping the Northern Alliance forces overthrow the Taleban regime. He said they were aimed at creating conditions in Afghanistan so that there is a government which does not tolerate terrorism within its borders.
Explaining why British forces have not been used is the latest raids on Afghanistan, Geoff Hoon said it was because it was not known how successful the Tomahawk missile launched from British submarines had been. The Defence Secretary said that until the assessment was clear "it would not be sensible to attack the same targets again". The missiles, which cost around £500,000 apiece, are used where conventional bombing, no matter how sophisticated, is unlikely to succeed.
Speaking on BBC2's Newsnight programme he said the missiles had been fired against "legitimate military targets...Targets that had been used by Osama bin Laden and certainly targets that the Taleban use to enforce their regime in Afghanistan". No timetable had been set for the current allied strikes, but he added: "I anticipate that it is more likely to be a matter of days rather than weeks. This is the first phase of our attacks on the Taleban regime, on bringing Osama bin Laden to account."
Geoff Hoon repeated that sending in ground troops in the wake of the air strikes was "one of the options we are looking at". He added: "There have been no specific decisions taken yet about ground forces but obviously we are looking at the most effective way of ensuring that in Afghanistan there is a government that no longer harbours terrorism. That is certainly something we will have to look at, but obviously we are hoping that the present strikes deliver the situation in Afghanistan that we want to see."
Tony Blair appeared on Arabic satellite television in an attempt to win over Arab critics of the war against Osama bin Laden, saying Bin Laden was "misusing" the Palestinian cause to justify terrorism.
Tony Blair used an interview with Qatar's al Jazeera station to say that Britain had long supported the idea of a Palestinian state if it emerged from peaceful negotiations and helped ensure regional stability. "Which is why I think it is so wrong when people like Bin Laden or the Taleban regime misuse the Palestinian cause to justify the killing of thousands of people," he told al Jazeera. "I think it is to misjudge the (Palestinian) cause to believe that that cause is advanced by acts of terrorism." Tony Blair said the attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon must give fresh impetus to Middle East peace efforts. "Of course we have to deal with the problems of injustice that the Palestinians suffer. Of course we've got to deal with the conditions with the people living in Gaza," he said. "So we've got to make sure that we put the peace process back together again. But that peace process is not helped by the slaughter of innocent people."
The Prime Ministers direct appeal to the Arab world was just one part of his diplomatic and propaganda offensive to sustain the fragile international coalition behind military strikes against Afghanistan's Taleban government. He said the US-led attacks did not mark a Western crusade against the Muslim world and alleged that Bin Laden wanted to install Taleban regimes across the Middle East.
"Let us be clear, when we listen to the words of Osama bin Laden, if he had his way, the regimes that he would replace regimes in the Arab world with would be like the Taleban regime in Afghanistan," he added. "I don't believe that anybody seriously wants to live under that kind of regime."
Addressing repeated Arab complaints of a humanitarian crisis in Iraq after more than a decade of UN sanctions imposed for Iraq's 1990 invasion of Kuwait, he said President Saddam Hussein was "the author of the misfortunes of the Iraqi people". "He could use as much money as he wanted under the regime of sanctions in place...for medicines and food. He chooses not to," Tony Blair said.
Tony Blair said there had been "insufficient dialogue between the Arab world and the West, between Islam and between people of other faiths".
At the same time, Washington has said it is still looking into who was behind September 11 attacks and may have to launch military strikes on other nations and groups beyond Afghanistan and the al Qaida network. "We may find that our self-defence requires further actions with respect to other organisations and other states," US Ambassador John Negroponte said in a letter to the 15-nation UN Security Council.
Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said, however, that the action was limited to targets in Afghanistan. "The agreement at the moment is that (the strikes) are confined to Afghanistan. That is where the problem is and that is the military action in which we are involved," he said in Luxembourg when asked about the US statement.
European diplomats said any attempt to extend the campaign by targeting Iraq, as some US officials have suggested, would blow apart the global coalition against terrorism, and alienate not only Arab and Muslim states but also key European partners including Russia. The White House said the Negroponte letter was only the latest such warning from the George W. Bush administration. "The letter states what the president has been saying very publicly all along, that the United States reserves the right to defend itself wherever it is necessary," Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer told reporters. Asked what other countries the letter may have been referring to, Fleischer said he would not provide a list.
John Negroponte's letter said a US probe into last month's attacks "has obtained clear and compelling information that the al Qaida organisation, which is supported by the Taleban regime in Afghanistan, had a central role in the attacks." However, the letter added, "there is still much we do not know. Our inquiry is in its early stages."
The Canadian government said on Monday it would deploy six naval ships as well as aircraft and 2,000 personnel to the coalition, and the former Soviet republic of Tajikistan, Afghanistan's northern neighbour, said it was prepared to let US forces use its air bases for military actions.
Russian Ambassador Sergei Lavrov, asked how Moscow would react to US strikes on more countries, reserved judgment. "Well, we have to see, because the letter clearly links this phase to the need for more investigation. We have to wait until the investigation is over," he said.
The US ambassador told the council that US military raids on Afghanistan, joined only by Britain, were launched under the authority of Article 51 of the UN Charter, which allows nations under attack to defend themselves.
UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan noted Washington had framed the military strikes as authorised by the UN Charter. But he did not offer his own view, emphasising instead a recent Security Council resolution reaffirming UN members' "inherent right of individual or collective self-defence". To defeat terrorism, "we need a sustained effort and a broad strategy that unites all nations and addresses all aspects of the scourge we face," Kofi Annan said.
The Taleban cabinet endorsed on Monday a call by a meeting of clerics to declare a jihad, saying the Afghan people would sacrifice all for honour. "They (the clerics) issued an edict for jihad and our people are enforcing it," Information Minister Qudratullah Jamal told Reuters.
Anti-US anger was exhibited in cities across Pakistan. Police fired into the air to disperse crowds in the city centre of Quetta and used teargas and batons. A pall of smoke hung over the city as police battled thousands of pro-Taleban demonstrators who set ablaze the office of the United Nations Children's Fund, two cinemas, a bank and an office of Pakistan's Central Investigations Agency.
Arab peoples across the Middle East have angrily criticised the US-led strikes on Afghanistan and two protesters were shot dead in Gaza at a rally supporting Osama bin Laden. Police said masked gunmen killed the 21- and 13-year-olds at the protest in Palestinian-ruled Gaza City. A third protestor was clinically dead on life support in hospital.
In Egypt, security sources said 20,000 students protested at universities across the country, some calling the attacks a "war against Islam". "US go to hell, Afghanis will prevail," students shouted at Alexandria University. "Bush Bush, you mean man, the blood of Muslims is not cheap," chanted others.
In the Gulf Arab state of Oman, college students marched in the capital Muscat protesting the strikes.
The Iraq government has condemned the attacks as unlawful. "We are at the brink of a big war launched first against Islamic states and Muslim people and there are threats against other Muslim states," Iraq Foreign Minister Naji Sabri said.
On Monday, Iraq's parliament called on all parliaments in the world to seek an end to the US strikes against Afghanistan, which it described as an "unjustified aggression", the official INA news agency said. "Parliaments of the world and peace-lovers should strive seriously for a halt to the US aggression against Afghanistan," the Iraqi parliament said in a statement carried by INA. It went on to "condemn the unjustified and unlawful aggression" perpetrated by the United States and "its allies, Britain and world Zionism".
Lebanon said the US campaign was doomed as long as the Arab-Israeli crisis was unsolved. Sudan said it opposed all forms of violence and the cabinet expressed concern that the attacks targeted "Muslim people".
The Egyptian and Saudi Arabian governments have been silent after US and British forces began the assault on Afghanistan. Saudi Arabia, an important US ally, made no mention of the strikes. In Cairo, Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa said: "I demand that civilians be protected. Hurting civilians, family and property is serious."
Oman's Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Youssef bin Alawi bin Abdullah said Arabs "would not accept any action against any Arab state". He was apparently referring to Iraq, which fears it will be targeted after Afghanistan.
Moroccan Islamists condemned US aggression against poor Muslim Afghans and warned of street protests against the air strikes.
The governments of Jordan, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates backed what they termed international efforts to fight terrorism but said any action had to avoid killing innocent Afghan civilians. Qatar supported the fight against extremists but said "we would have liked it if things had not gotten to that stage".
"I think people are in a state of shock," said a senior Gulf Arab official. "With all the circumstances, we are worried about the impact on (public sentiment in) the region..."
"What the United States is doing is wrong," said Ahmed al-Shami, 30, a shopkeeper in Yemen's capital Sanaa. "American interests will be attacked in Arab states, the Muslim world, Europe and America. The attacks that happened on September 11 will happen again," he predicted. In Saudi Arabia, Reema, a mother of three, said: "I think the responsibility for the (September 11) tragedy lies with the American government, but if bin Laden did it he is also wrong."
British Muslims urged the United States and Britain to put an immediate end to "knee-jerk" attacks on Afghanistan. Many Muslims questioned the validity of a global campaign against terrorism that ignored the fate of Palestinians under Israeli occupation and Afghan civilians.
Bahraini Abu Hassan said Muslims should support Afghanistan. "America wants to control the world. Are Israeli attacks on Palestinians not a terrorist act? Would America bomb Israel?" "If the US can justify attacks on Afghanistan then they must also find justification to force Israel to give the Palestinians their land," said Salem, an Omani taxi driver.
Thousands of people demonstrated in cities throughout Italy yesterday against the US-led military strikes on Afghanistan, following an appeal by communist and anti-globalisation organisations. Around 1,000 turned out in Rome's Piazza della Repubblica where marchers were led by the leader of the Refounded Communist Party, Fausto Bertinotti. He was joined at the front of the march by members of the Green party.
The demonstrators carried banners with the slogan "No to Terrorism and No to War", written in Italian, Arabic and Kurdish.
"The terrorists must be hit hard and in a targeted way, but war will achieve exactly the contrary," Fausto Bertinotti said.
Around 2,000 people turned out in Naples, which hosts the headquarters of NATO's southern command, to protest against the strikes. Anti-globalisation protesters burned a US flag during a smaller demonstration against the air strikes on Sunday evening.
In Sicily, around 1,000 people marched from the centre of Palermo to stage a sit-down protest outside the US Consulate.
Militant demonstrations also took place in the United States in New York, Chicago, San Francisco and Los Angeles and more will take place today. Demonstrations are also being held in other countries, including Canada, Indonesia, Japan, the Philippines, Germany and Belgium.
When Britain and the US announced the attacks against Afghanistan, they claimed that their "international coalition" represents the "collective will of the world". However, at the UN General Assembly plenary debate on "Measures to Eliminate International Terrorism", the majority of member states denounced the use of force in settling international problems and demanded a proper definition of terrorism. This reveals the self-serving nature of the statements of the US, Britain and other big powers which are aimed to provide their agenda with an air of legitimacy it does not have.
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