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Year 2001 No. 189, November 6, 2001 ARCHIVE HOME SEARCH SUBSCRIBE

Europe's Leaders Gather in Downing Street

Workers' Daily Internet Edition : Article Index :

Coalition's Activities:
Europe's Leaders Gather in Downing Street
Tony Blair Prepares For Week of Diplomacy
Washington and Moscow Co-ordinate Afghanistan Policy
US Carpet-Bombs Northeast Afghanistan

Anti-War Actions:
More Reports of Action against the "War on Terrorism"
Special Evening of Theatre

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Europe's Leaders Gather in Downing Street

Tony Blair on Sunday night hosted an impromptu summit of European leaders in Downing Street as the Anglo-US bombing campaign in Afghanistan entered its fifth week. The leaders of France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Spain attended a dinner hosted by the Prime Minister.

Tony Blair was originally due to meet with Germany's chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and France's president Jacques Chirac and prime minister Lionel Jospin. Following a row over the informal British, French and German summit prior to the Ghent European Council meeting last month, the leaders of Holland, Spain and Italy re-arranged their diaries over the weekend in order to participate. Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi and Spanish premier Jose Maria Aznar were present with Dutch prime minister Wim Kok. The Belgian prime minister, Guy Verhofstadt, and foreign and security policy chief Javier Solana also attended as representatives of the EU.

Acting as de facto leaders of the EU bloc, western Europe's big powers met as speculation was growing that a major land offensive against Afghanistan's Taleban government is imminent. Reports that the Northern Alliance is hoping to capture the city of Mazar-i-Sharif by the end of the week would clear the way for US troops to move in from neighbouring Uzbekistan. A Downing Street spokesman described the meeting as "very useful" and claimed there was "absolute solidarity" over the war strategy.

Sunday's dinner at Downing Street followed a week during which criticism of the military campaign and calls for an end to the bombing were voiced by aid groups and politicians in many European countries, in addition to the popular opposition to the aggression.

Tony Blair's official spokesman said "The Prime Minister wanted to get together with the five major military contributors to exchange views on the military campaign." Britain, Italy, France, Germany and Spain were the five EU countries ready and able to make "a major military contribution". "It was a useful opportunity for the leaders to get an overview of the situation," the spokesman said.

Tony Blair updated the EU leaders on his round of Middle East shuttle diplomacy of last week. Following his Middle East tour, Tony Blair admitted that a gulf existed between the West and the Muslim world. The Prime Minister also acknowledged that he had only modest hopes "that we can prepare the ground to move the Middle East peace process forward", which is to say, dampen down the Palestinian intifada so as to minimise one factor in the opposition to Anglo-American policy regarding "terrorism".

Tony Blair's hopes of meeting Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in London later this month have been dashed after Sharon cancelled a planned trip to Britain and the United States, citing the security situation in Israel.

After the meeting, Chirac said the leaders agreed on the need for a solution to the problems in the Middle East. On the prospects for Israeli-Palestinian talks, Chirac said: "We are unanimous in thinking that only a return of the two partners to the negotiating table and renewal of the peace process as soon as possible – and the setting up of a Palestinian state which would be both peaceful and respectful, naturally, of the rights and freedoms and security of the state of Israel – is an absolute necessity."

In relation to the military action in Afghanistan, Chirac said. "We reaffirmed our complete solidarity with the Americans, while being aware that ... military action is not the only way to fight international terrorism and that we must reinforce the means of finding a political solution to the organisation of Afghanistan."

Wim Kok said that most important in the short-term priority is the humanitarian aspect – to get sufficient food into Afghanistan before winter fell.

Absentee Portugal raised a dissenting voice. Referring to the London meeting, a Lisbon cabinet source told news agencies, "Initiatives of this type contribute neither to the cohesion of the anti-terrorist coalition, nor to European unity," adding that such limited meetings among EU nations "should not set a precedent".

The "mini-summit" thus represented both the tension between the European powers and their common interests. While the EU leaders see the bloc as necessary to the furtherance of the neo-liberal agenda, the big power domination of Europe is also a source of disquiet. Such domination goes against the right of nations to sovereignty, but is necessary to the utilisation of the EU as a bloc to back up the imposition of "western" values and interests world-wide. Tony Blair takes it for granted that the EU bloc can be wielded for imposing the Anglo-American agenda on the world, and the British government still sees the EU as a means to re-assert Britain as a foremost world power.

In this respect, Tony Blair’s meeting with Polish Prime Minister Leszek Miller at Downing Street, which took place a couple of days earlier on November 2, signified how key the British government sees Poland’s early accession to the EU as crucial to extending the EU eastwards and confront and ingest the CIS nations which buffer Russia and Central Asia. To do so would fulfil the dream that Hitler himself was not able to accomplish.

Article Index

Tony Blair Prepares For Week of Diplomacy

Tony Blair is gearing up for another week of hectic diplomacy to maintain the fragile international consensus for military action against Afghanistan. Tony Blair will fly to Washington on Wednesday to brief President Bush on the results of talks with European and Middle Eastern leaders. He will be back in London by Thursday for a meeting with King Abdullah of Jordan and Pakistani President General Pervez Musharraf.

Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, who was among the European leaders who took part in Sunday's talks at No 10, will be back in London on Friday morning.

French President Chirac will be in Washington to meet Bush a day before Blair. German Chancellor Schroeder has just returned from China and Russia.

As well as seeing Blair and Chirac, Bush is to meet Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso, Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern and Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika.

Bush will also address an audience in Warsaw via satellite to discuss the international coalition he has assembled and make his first speech to the UN General Assembly next Saturday.

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Washington and Moscow Co-ordinate Afghanistan Policy

The Russian-American working group on Afghanistan co-chaired by US Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage and Russia's First Deputy Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Trubnikov took place in Moscow on November 1, Russian agencies reported.

The meeting occurred behind closed doors, but after the session the two sides released a statement underscoring their agreement on all major issues, including opposition to any participation by the Taleban in a post-Taleban government. Meanwhile, Russian officials the same day denied reports that Russian planes had attacked Afghanistan and that Russian forces will soon go there, ITAR-TASS reported.

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US Carpet-Bombs Northeast Afghanistan

US warplanes dropped more than 100 bombs on Taleban positions in north-eastern Afghanistan on Sunday, the heaviest bombing in a week, news agency correspondents near the frontlines said.

The stepped-up bombing near the border with Tajikistan came as US air strikes on the Taleban regime in Afghanistan entered a fifth week. For the first time, US B-52s also targeted Taleban positions behind the frontlines, further to the south. US bombers have hit the Taleban frontlines in the north-east for five days over the last week.

About 65 strike aircraft, including up to eight long-range bombers, also dropped precision and "dumb" bombs on six target areas and an unspecified number of so-called "engagement zones" on Friday, Pentagon spokesman Major Mike Halbig said. An engagement zone is a term used by the Pentagon to describe battlefield positions or suspected concentrations of enemy troops and hardware, which, if proven true, can be pursued later as targets of opportunity.

"These targets were near Kunduz, Kabul and Kandahar," Major Halbig said. "They included Al-Qaida and Taleban facilities, tunnels and caves as well as Taleban military forces arrayed against opposition forces."

However, the Pentagon refused to provide any assessment of the success of its strikes, arguing the current conflict was vastly different from the Gulf War or any other military engagement of the past. "That’s not about numbers," Major Halbig said. "It’s not about how many people are killed."

A US air strike in Kabul early Sunday hit a Taleban truck driving in the capital, injuring nine militia fighters, sources said. Mr Abdul Wakil Omari, deputy head of the Taleban’s Bakhter information agency, said nine persons in a pick-up truck were injured in what was believed to have been a rocket strike just after midnight. Mr Omari said the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif was bombarded during the night but he had no details of any casualties.

Article Index

More Reports of Action against the "War on Terrorism"

Over 2500 on Anti-War March in Manchester

Over two and half thousand people marched through Manchester on Saturday, November 3, in the biggest peace demonstration for over ten years, despite the rain. The march was organised by the Greater Manchester Coalition to Stop the War.

The march brought together a diverse range of groups of peace campaigners, trade unionists, members of Manchester's Asian and Middle Eastern communities, Green Party, CND, Socialist Workers Party, the Labour Party, Students, Socialist Alliance, Globalise Resistance and many other Stop the War groups that have sprung up around the city in the last few weeks. No one group dominated, the chanting and samba playing complimented each other. The range of speakers at the end was almost as diverse as the march itself

The march grew in size as it went through the city centre. The march stopped in St Anne’s Square and held a minute’s silence for all victims of conflict and war.

Anti-War Movement Rally in Belfast

More than 150 people took part in an anti-war march through Belfast city centre on Saturday, November 3. To the beat of drums the people carried placards and signs under the overriding banner of Belfast’s Anti-War Movement (AWM).

The rally moved through the city centre, shouting slogans. It was a varied mix of groups and individuals who made up the march, all there due to the strength of feeling they felt in opposition to the bombing raids on Afghanistan.

Once at Belfast City Hall, the placards and banners were attached to the gates and more speakers had their say including Sean Smith from the Belfast Trades Council. Although two thousand workers are being laid off at Shorts supposedly in response to the bombings, Sean Smith this would have happened anyway. He was particularly concerned with the American B52 planes stopping over in Shannon Airport on their way to Afghanistan, and called upon the workers there to refuse to help them. This was applauded by the crowd.

Demonstration outside Northwood NATO Base

On the afternoon of Saturday, November 3, a demonstration against the war in Afghanistan took place outside the NATO base at Northwood. A group of 40 supporters of the "Stop The War" campaign held up banners. People participated from Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire and Middlesex.

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Special Evening of Theatre

A special evening of theatre in aid of the Stop the War Coalition was held on Sunday, November 4, at the Royal Court Theatre in London’s Sloane Square.

A production without décor of Caryl Churchill’s "Far Away", directed by Nina Raine, was given with the company from the original Royal Court production of November 2000. "Far Away" is an anti-war play. The author has written many plays with political themes stretching over a career of some 40 years, and has worked with threatre companies which have utilised extended workshop periods in developing new plays.

After the interval, Kika Markham gave a virtuoso and moving reading from the American playwright Tony Kushner’s new play reflecting on Afghanistan "Homebody/Kabul".

MP Jeremy Corbyn, on behalf of the Stop the War Coalition, at the end of the evening warmly thanked the many individuals who had given their time and expertise in helping to make the evening possible, especially to the cast and company participating in the plays, and the front of house staff, who had given their services free. He made an impassioned condemnation of the horrors of the bombing of Afghanistan and called on everyone to further support the campaign and participate in the national demonstration on November 18.

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