London, Nov. 20 (Reuters): George W. Bush and Tony Blair vowed no let-up in the war on terror and denied their occupation of Iraq had sparked today’s deadly attacks on British targets in Turkey.
As tens of thousands of anti-war protesters swarmed through the streets of London during Bush’s historic state visit, talks between the two leaders focused on the latest suspected al Qaida attacks.
Twin blasts in Istanbul hit the British consulate and the offices of Britain’s largest bank, HSBC. At least 25 people were reported killed and nearly 400 wounded. The consulate’s chaplain said consul-general Roger Short was among the dead.
The Istanbul attacks did not dampen the anti-war protests, in fact many marchers said they made their protests against Bush all the more relevant.
“The terrorist attacks are exactly the sort of thing we predicted would happen if they went into Iraq. They’ve proved us right,” said film-maker Martin Smith, 64.
“US policies create more terrorism,” said Jamal Kamamgar, a 28-year-old Iraqi living in London. “Before the invasion, Iraq was a secular country. Now religion is growing because of US humiliation.”
A crowd of mainly young protesters blew whistles and horns, beat drums and pushed a huge pink “peace tank” toward central London’s Trafalgar Square, where they planned to topple a giant effigy of Bush in an echo of the celebrated fall of Saddam Hussein’s statue in Baghdad.
Bush said the Turkish attacks only strengthened his resolve. “Great Britain and America and other free nations are united today in our grief and united in our determination to fight and defeat this evil wherever it is found,” he said.
“Our mission in Iraq is noble and it is necessary, and no act of thugs or killers will change our resolve or alter their fate. We will finish the job we have begun.”
Blair, whose popularity has slid at home over his support for the war, said: “Once again we must affirm that in the face of this terrorism there must be no holding back, no compromise...”
The image of Bush and Blair side-by-side, vowing to stay the course in the face of terror, further cemented a bond that has not wavered since Blair vowed to stand “shoulder-to-shoulder” with the US in the wake of the September 11 attacks. British foreign secretary Jack Straw said the Turkish blasts bore “all the hallmarks of the international terrorism operations practised by al Qaida” — the group Washington blames for the September 11 attacks.
Turkey said Straw would travel to Istanbul later. Anti-terrorist officers from Scotland Yard were also expected to fly out to help the Turks investigate the twin blasts. A caller to a Turkish news agency claimed responsibility for the attacks in the name of al Qaida.
Top German intelligence officials said the timing of the strike to coincide with Bush’s visit was deliberate, but Blair rebuffed suggestions that his alliance with Bush had provoked the attacks. “What has caused the terrorist attack today in Turkey is not the President of the US. It’s not the alliance between America and Britain,” he said.
The attacks overshadowed political talks that left the British Prime Minister again open to criticism that his unflagging support for Bush has won few benefits for Britain. Blair failed to win breakthroughs on the two most contentious issues — the treatment of British detainees at the US prison colony at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and US tariffs on steel.