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Friday, 19 October, 2001, 18:54 GMT 19:54 UK
EU takes softer stance on war aims
Protests have been small-scale
Protests have been small-scale
EU leaders at a summit meeting in the Belgian city of Ghent have reaffirmed their "staunchest support" for the US campaign in Afghanistan but have backed away from an overt call to overthrow the Taleban regime.

Instead, the final statement calls for the elimination of the al-Qaeda network. An original draft statement had described the regime's overthrow as a "legitimate objective".

It calls for the EU to work under the auspices of the United Nations "toward the emergence of a stable new government" for the Afghan people.

UK Prime Minister Tony Blair - representing the member state with the most prominent role in the US campaign - said, however, there was "complete acceptance" at the meetings that action had to be taken against the Taleban.

Inner friction

Swedish Prime Minister Goran Persson said that while the Taleban were not the main target of the campaign, they fell under the UN mandate which allows those who support al-Qaeda to be targeted.

Silvio Berlusconi
Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi was jeered as he arrived
Correspondents say that the adoption of a less aggressive tone may be an indication of ongoing friction between the EU members over the approach to the 11 September attacks.

Pressure from some of the smaller members in the 15-nation union is reported to have caused the call for the overthrow of the Taleban to be removed.

A separate, pre-summit meeting between the French, German and British leaders irritated some EU officials and smaller member states, which feel they are being sidelined.

Italian newspapers have described the trilateral meeting as a "slap in the face" to Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who was not invited to take part.

France, Germany and the UK are the only European states so far asked by the US to take part in the war against terrorism, and officials said the meeting focused on their possible military contributions.

Mr Blair told reporters that "no disrespect had been intended to anyone else" by holding the meeting.

Peaceful protest

The summit is taking place amid tight security, with Belgian fighter jets reported to be on alert to intercept any air attack, and a major police presence.

Dog handler
Security is tight in the ancient Flemish city
But the violent demonstrations which marked the last EU summit in Gothenburg and the G8 summit in Genoa have not occurred.

Protests - against the US bombing campaign and against global capitalism - have been smaller than expected and have passed off peacefully.

However, about 200 Belgian anti-globalisation protesters threw eggs and tomatoes at Mr Berlusconi - the host of the Genoa summit - as he arrived for pre-summit talks with other centre-right leaders.

Euro review

Although much of the original agenda was overtaken by events, the summit also focused on preparations for the introduction of euro notes and coins on 1 January - just 74 days away.

The European Commission sounded alarm bells earlier this month, warning that small and medium-sized businesses in the 12 eurozone states were inadequately prepared for the changeover.

There were also calls for the EU's own counter-terrorism drive to be speeded up and to remove barriers to the exchange of information and support.

This summit is the second since the 11 September attacks on the United States and the first since the beginning of the military campaign.

On 21 September the heads of state backed targeted US retaliation and agreed on a new package of counter-terrorism measures, including a European arrest warrant.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Justin Webb
"There are a few anti-war protesters"
The BBC's Shaun Ley
"Prodi and the EU say this is not to be a pre-summit"
EU Commission President, Romano Prodi
explains his displeasure at France, Britain and Germany meeting prior to the main summit
See also:

26 Jun 01 | Europe
Belgium's EU agenda
16 Oct 01 | Europe
EU combats terror funding
20 Sep 01 | Europe
EU gears up to fight terrorism
21 Sep 01 | Europe
EU leaders back US retaliation
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