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Asia rejects Osama call, decries war

Singapore, Feb. 12 (Reuters): Asian leaders and religious elders have rejected a call reportedly made by al Qaida leader Osama bin Laden for a violent response to any US attack on Iraq, but some warned that a war might fuel Muslim radicals.

A taped message said to be from bin Laden — the man blamed for the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States — called for suicide attacks against US “crusaders” preparing for war on Iraq.

The audio tape was aired on the Qatar-based al Jazeera television channel yesterday and cited by US secretary of state Colin Powell while he was speaking to a government committee in Washington. The US has said in the past it is not sure if bin Laden is dead or alive.

In Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim nation, the head of the country’s largest religious group said the Iraq issue was solely political.

Most people in Indonesia oppose US policy on Iraq and on other West Asian issues such as the Israeli-Palestinian crisis, but the country itself was the target of a deadly bomb attack blamed on elements linked to al Qaida.

“This war really is about American political interests and domination. Even Christians in Iraq are against the war. The issue must be fairness, not religion,” Hasyim Muzadi, chief of the 40-million strong Nahdlatul Ulama, told Reuters.

“But the war itself will prompt (radicals) to turn it into a religious issue. As I have said, fundamentalism and radicalism will flourish,” Muzadi said.

Muslim militants are blamed for the Bali bombing in October that killed nearly 200 people and some other parts of Indonesia have suffered from bloody feuds between Muslims and Christians. But the vast majority of Muslims, who make up around 85 per cent of Indonesia’s 210 million people, are moderate and support government moves against militants.

Indonesian foreign ministry spokesman Marty Natalegawa declined to comment on the tape, but said Jakarta would continue to oppose any unilateral action against Iraq.

“The UN has the responsibilities and the rights to address (the Iraqi issue). We oppose any efforts which are unilateral. Our position is not in response to comments made by individuals,” Natalegawa said.

Representatives of Thai Muslims, who comprise about 10 per cent of Thailand’s 63 million population, said today they agreed with bin Laden’s opposition to war on Iraq, but said they opposed violence.

“Osama bin Laden is not the only person who opposes war on Iraq. Muslims and people of other religions worldwide also disagree with the US move,” Kariya Kijjarak, spokesman for The Central Islamic Committee of Thailand, told Reuters.

“But violence is bin Laden’s method. Muslims in Thailand will follow only peaceful means,” he added. The alleged bin Laden tape urged Muslims to help Baghdad as a religious duty if the US attacked Iraq.

“We stress the importance of martyrdom (suicide) attacks against the enemy. These attacks inflicted on America and Israel a disaster they have never experienced before,” the bin Laden tape said. US officials said the tape was probably genuine.

While not commenting specifically on bin Laden’s call, Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammed was quoted by the official Bernama news agency as saying he disagreed Muslims should fight for Iraq on the pretext of Jihad (holy war).

“It’s a stupid idea. We want to fight a holy war if we can win. If we go in just to be killed, that’s not jihad,” Bernama quoted him as saying on the sidelines of a Muslim holiday gathering.

“If we want to go to a war, we must have the strategy and strength. If we go just like that, I don’t see any benefit from it apart from merely venting our anger,” he said.

In Pakistan, one of Washington’s most important allies in its war against terror, Information minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmad said Islamabad was confident it could protect US interests in the country.

“We have full control and the law and order situation is fully under control and will remain under control,” he said.

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