Iraq Bombings: World Reaction - Peking voices loudest anger

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The Independent Online
WORLD OPINION was polarised yesterday by the air strikes on Iraq. While China and Russia led calls for the raids to stop, America's European and Western allies mostly blamed Baghdad for creating the crisis.

"We are deeply shocked," said the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, Sun Yuxi, in unusually forthright language. "The United States has not received permission from the UN Security Council and took unilateral action in using force against Iraq, violating the UN charter and international principles."

Peking also lambasted Richard Butler, the chairman of the UN Special Commission (Unscom), for his report this week on Iraq's lack of co-operation with UN inspectors.

In Hanoi, the Chinese Vice-President, Hu Jintao, was blunt. "The US has used military force against a sovereign country and it will be condemned by the international community," he said. "We strongly demand the United States immediately stop such military action."

After the significant warming in Sino-US relations as a result of President Bill Clinton's mainland visit in June, the US air strikes will further cool ties which had already started to turn frosty.

Peking has in recent years made no secret of wanting to re-establish trade links with Baghdad as soon as permitted, and was an enthusiastic backer of the "oil-for-food" agreement.

In Russia, too, protests from deep indignation to outright fury echoed across the political spectrum. President Boris Yeltsin declared the US- led assault "completely unacceptable", and a "crude violation" of the United Nations charter.

The prime minister, Yevgeny Primakov, an Arabist withlong experience of negotiating with Saddam Hussein, underscored Russia's anger with a complaint that it was "outrageous" that the strike was launched while the UN Security Council was discussing the issue. And the Foreign Minister, Igor Ivanov, called for the firing of Mr Butler.

Although Mr Yeltsin did not repeat his warning, made earlier this year, that the US could start a new world war in the region, Russia's outrage is deeply felt. Moscow had extensive economic ties with Baghdad and has long opposed military action.

Yesterday, Mr Yeltsin sought to emphasis that Russia and China stand shoulder-to-shoulder on the issue by speaking by telephone to President Jiang Zemin.

Kremlin officials also warned that the strikes had probably extinguished any chance thatthe long-delayed START-2 arms reduction treaty, which cuts nuclear warheads by up to two-thirds, will be ratified by the State Duma, or lower house, in the near future.

The Communist-dominated Duma - sounding board for increasingly anti- Western and anti-Semitic sentiments in recent weeks - held a minute's silence for the Iraqis killed in the operation. It passed a motion by a crushing 394-1 condemning the air raids as a "barbarous" act of "international terrorism".

A particularly chilling threat also came from Islamic Chechnya, where four Western hostages - including three Britons - were found beheaded last week. News reports in Moscow quoted the unrecognised republic's president, Aslan Maskhadov, saying that Chechen forces were preparing to strike against US and British interests.

In Europe, reaction to the British and American action was predictably warmer. France distanced itself from the attacks but blamed Baghdad for the spiral of events that led to them. "France deplores the escalation which led to the American military strikes against Iraq and the grave human consequences which they could have for the Iraqi people," the Foreign Ministry said.

President Jacques Chirac said later that the bombings would not solve the crisis and he was working to bring about a rapid end to the conflict.

However, Germany's Chancellor, Gerhard Schroder, supported the strikes, calling them "the consequence of the obstinate refusal of Saddam Hussein to co-operate with UN weapons inspectors". The Austrian presidency of the European Union said Saddam bore full responsibility for the attacks. Canada, Australia, Spain and the Netherlands also backed the raids.

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