Terror upstages Bush-Blair visit

The president and prime minister vow to remain steadfast after Al Qaeda hit British targets in Istanbul.

Terrorist attacks in Istanbul Thursday completely upstaged President Bush's state visit to London, serving as a chilling reminder to his hosts that Britain is a prime target of terrorists.

Protesters gathering in the tens of thousands Thursday to vent their anger at Mr. Bush's Iraq campaign said the blasts in Turkey merely reinforced their point: that the campaign against terrorism wasn't working.

The blasts were probably timed to coincide with the Bush visit, analysts say, but were conducted at a distance because of the tight security in London. With Britain now a clear target, they add, Prime Minister Tony Blair is likely to come under increasing pressure over his close alliance with Bush - particularly as the US president offered him few concessions on secondary issues that divide the two countries.

Both leaders immediately vowed not to flinch in the face of such attacks. At a press conference just hours after the attacks, they robustly rejected arguments that both countries had brought such tragedies upon themselves through their tactics since Sept. 11 - most notably the war in Iraq.

"We must affirm that in the face of this terrorism there must be no holding back, no compromise, no hesitation in confronting this menace, in attacking it whenever and wherever we can and in defeating it utterly," Mr. Blair said.

"There may be some who think Britain would gain from standing back from this struggle, even some who think we and the United States and our allies have brought this upon ourselves," he said.

But, he continued: "What has caused the attack today in Turkey is not the president of the USA, is not the alliance between America and Britain, what is responsible ... [it] is terrorism, the terrorists, and our response has got to be ... to say we are going to defeat you and we are not going to back down and flinch from this struggle."

President Bush added: "Today we saw their ambitions of murder. Cruelty is part of their strategy; the terrorists hope to intimidate, they hope to demoralize. They are not going to succeed. Great Britain, America, and other free nations are united in our determination to fight and defeat this evil wherever it is found."

Police, who said that British interests had certainly been a target in the attacks, said they would send units to Istanbul to help with the investigation. Consul General Roger Short was killed in the blast. British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said "three or four" consulate staff were unaccounted for.

A spokeswoman for the British Bank HSBC confirmed that two of the bank's buildings had been hit and that there had been fatalities in the vicinity, and said the bank was "extremely concerned for safety of staff and customers." She would not elaborate.

Ring of steel

In preparation for the Bushes' arrival on Tuesday, British police threw a ring of steel around London, with more than 5,000 officers primarily there to marshall street protests by tens of thousands of people, but also on the look out for rogue elements in the crowds.

"Everybody was braced for something to happen coinciding with the Bush visit to the UK to demonstrate hostility towards Britain," says Rosemary Hollis, of the Royal Institute for International Affairs. "It would certainly be a way of avoiding having to deal with the security in London to hit softer targets in Turkey."

Antiwar protesters have been building up for Thursday's massive protests by staging a number of smaller street demonstrations against Bush, Blair, and the war. Wednesday night, about 30 people were arrested in a series of minor scuffles with police, but as of press time Thursday, protesters generally had remained peaceful - if vociferous.

Many of the street protesters in London were adamant that Britain and the United States were only making the terrorist situation worse through their actions, notably in Iraq.

"This proves our point that the war on terrorism hasn't diminished the threat, it has increased it," says Lindsey German, a founder of the Stop the War Coalition and one of the organizers of Thursday's march in central London that brought tens of thousands onto the streets. "It's obvious they have done it deliberately, hitting British targets on a day when George Bush is in London.

"People are shocked and opposed to what has happened in Istanbul, but this is a protest about George Bush and he's still here, and this just reinforces people's opposition to him," she adds.

"You can't have a war on terror - you just can't win it," says Joanna Ellis-Jones, a mother of two from London. "It's a ridiculous call to arms. It's not thought out."

Ben Rodgers, a student, says Bush's actions in Iraq and elsewhere "could potentially disturb the world. A unipolar world is inherently unstable. They went into Iraq to install democracy as a universal solution, when in fact democracy doesn't work in their own countries."

Hank Eynatten, a social worker from Peoria, Ill., who has lived in Britain for 30 years, said Bush's actions since Sept. 11 had lost America all sympathy.

"The US is presently the most hated country in the world and it certainly wasn't two years ago," he says. "It's not for one country to impose its will on another country. The US, of all countries, should know that."

Any concessions for Britain?

Bush said that next to the US, Britain had contributed - and sacrificed - more than any other country in the war on terror, and expressed his gratitude. But he gave little ground on the key issues that divide the countries: the continued detention of nine British nationals at Guantánamo Bay and the persistence of US steel tariffs that punish foreign steelmakers, including British.

Analysts said that with Britain now an overt terror target, Blair would be anxious to start getting some concessions from his ally and "friend."

"If he can't get concessions on Guantanamo or steel, where it is clear under international law that the Bush administration is in the wrrong, then what is the point?" says Prof. Iain McLean of Oxford University.

Adds Rosemary Hollis: "There are lots of nice words and praise and acknowledgment of Tony Blair's courage, but the president hasn't actually given any ground on any of the issues where there is disagreement with the British, like Guantanamo Bay or the steel tariffs.

"If there is no movement on that score there will be questions about what we are getting out of this relationship."

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