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US puts nationals on global alert

Washington, Jan. 25: In what promises to be a repeat of the departure of Americans from India and Pakistan last year at the instance of the state department, the Bush administration has warned US citizens abroad to be ready to go home in an emergency.

But this time, the warning is not confined to South or West Asia, but worldwide. If implemented, it could turn out to be the biggest exodus of expatriates in history.

State department official Susan Pittman confirmed the advice to Americans abroad, but would not say what prompted it.

In Washington’s chanceries, it is being interpreted as the clearest sign yet that a war with Iraq is only a matter of weeks.

Intelligence estimates here are that an attack on Iraq could put Americans abroad in danger of reprisals not only from radical Muslim groups, but also from others who are opposed to a new conflict in the Gulf.

A cable sent to US embassies worldwide cautions overseas Americans to keep stocks of their prescription medicines and food and maintain their passports up-to-date so that they are prepared for political unrest or terrorist attacks in their countries of residence and move out quickly.

The advice is known as a “warden message”. Although state department officials insisted such messages have gone out before, they could not cite any such example of a global warning before. It is presumed to be unprecedented, but to say so would be to indirectly confirm that a war against Iraq is imminent. President George W. Bush insists in public that no decision has yet been taken on starting the war.

In the run-up to the 1991 war for liberating Kuwait, an advisory was sent out for an ordered departure of non-essential US government employees and dependents, but only from Jordan, Yemen, Algeria, Israel, the eastern region of Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Kuwait, Bahrain and Qatar.

The latest cable to embassies appear justified in the light of anti-American feeling that is surging worldwide. Reflecting that feeling, US attorney-general John Ashcroft was pilloried at the current World Economic Forum in Davos for the Bush administration’s actions, which many participants criticised as being opposed to civil liberties, human rights and American values.

Bush sent Ashcroft to Davos to deal with complaints from corporates about visa delays and post-September 11 problems which were affecting business.

But several delegates told Ashcroft that sympathy for the US after the 2001 terrorist attacks, which prompted a WEF meeting in New York last year had evaporated and that the agenda had, instead, shifted to anti-Americanism.

n US mulls using nukes in Iraq, Page 5

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