March 20, 2003

World Leaders Express Applause, Regret and Anger


Filed at 5:08 p.m. ET

LONDON (Reuters) — The opening salvos of the Iraq war Thursday earned the United States polite applause from some traditional allies, expressions of regret from others and furious condemnation from its usual enemies.
Russia, France, Germany and China, which strongly opposed military action to disarm Iraq, called for a swift end to hostilities and expressed fears of a humanitarian catastrophe.
The call was accompanied by a wave of protests which swept across the globe, with tens of thousands of people taking to the streets in Asia, Europe and the Middle East and converging on U.S. embassies.
"No matter how long this conflict lasts, it will have serious consequences for the future," said French President Jacques Chirac, who helped stymie U.S. and British attempts to win U.N. backing for military force against President Saddam Hussein.
German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, whose vocal opposition to war angered Washington, said a war would mean "thousands of people will have to suffer terribly."
"The world must find its way back to the path of peace as quickly as possible for the sake of its common future," he said in a televised address.
"Military action ... is a big political error," Russian President Vladimir Putin said.
In the Islamic world, opposition was the norm but not quite total. Iran, Iraq's neighbor and listed by President Bush on the same "axis of evil," called the attack "unjustifiable and illegitimate."
The 22-member Arab League called for fast and effective international and Arab action to stop the war.
Turkey's President Ahmet Necdet Sezer questioned the legitimacy of what he called unilateral U.S. action against Iraq, just hours before Turkey's parliament agreed to open Turkish airspace to U.S. military flights.
Turkey's close military alliance with the United States has been badly strained by its refusal to allow its soil to be used as a launch pad for U.S. forces to open a second front in northern Iraq.


But many in Muslim Kuwait, invaded by Iraq in 1990 and freed by U.S.-led forces, were relieved to see what they hoped was the beginning of the end of Saddam.
"Bush is a real man," Ahmad Hussein Ahmad said, fiddling with prayer beads. "His dad liberated Kuwait and now the son will liberate Iraq." Some Kuwaitis held a party on the border to celebrate what they hoped was the end of Saddam.
Few elsewhere in the Arab world were as enthusiastic.
"This war is a sin," Cairo taxi driver Youssef said.
"The people will pay the price," said Atef, a Beirut concierge. "Saddam is like Osama (bin Laden). Even if they spend their whole lives searching for him, they won't find him."
Palestinian Cabinet minister Saeb Erekat expressed concern that Israel might intensify a crackdown against a Palestinian uprising while the world's attention was diverted. The militant group Hamas called for an anti-U.S. jihad, or holy struggle.
Saudi Arabia said it regretted the outbreak of war. The United States closed embassies in Jordan and Pakistan and urged Americans to leave Lebanon.
China surprised analysts who had expected it to issue only moderate criticism for the sake of good relations with Washington. Instead it called for a halt to "a violation of the U.N. Charter and the basic norms of international law."
Malaysia outdid most in anti-American invective, with Deputy Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi calling the attack "a black mark in history" with "the world now seeing might is right."


U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan called on both sides in the conflict to do everything possible to protect civilians during the fighting.
"My thoughts today are with the Iraqi people, who face yet another ordeal. I hope that all parties will scrupulously observe the requirements of international humanitarian law and will do everything in their power to shield the civilian population from the grim consequences of war," Annan said.
Praise for the attack was much more restrained than the criticism.
"At this time ... I understand, and I support the start of the use of force by the United States," Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi said, putting a security alliance with the United States ahead of Japanese public opinion.
President Roh Moo-hyun of South Korea, like Japan a beneficiary of U.S. military protection, expressed support, said, "We will make diplomatic efforts to ensure that this war does not worsen our relations with North Korea."
Bulgaria, also providing military help, expressed backing as did Denmark and Romania.
But in most of Europe there was little support for war.
Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt said his country was "profoundly disappointed" and said Iraqis were "caught between the anvil and the hammer."
EU President Greece said it regretted the crisis had not been solved peacefully and with international unity. The Vatican said it was "deeply pained" by the resort to war and said Pope John Paul II, one of the most powerful anti-war voices, had prayed for peace at his daily morning mass.

© 2003 Reuters Ltd.


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