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Last Updated:  Tuesday, 18 March, 2003, 23:25 GMT
Anti-war axis hits back at US
British tanks
Opponents of war say it is not legal or necessary
Europe's leading anti-war nations have lashed out against the decision by the US and UK to invade Iraq unless Saddam Hussein quits.

France, Germany and Russia - the countries which fought hardest to extend weapons inspections - angrily accused the US of going to war without necessity or legitimacy.

The Vatican voiced similar sentiments, warning that those who went to war would assume heavy responsibility before God and history.

The chorus of condemnation came as UK Prime Minister Tony Blair battled a looming parliamentary rebellion because of his support for war.

Jacques Chirac
To act without the legitimacy of the United Nations, to favour the use of force over law, is taking a serious responsibility
French President Jacques Chirac

France, publicly blamed by the US and UK for bringing down a second UN resolution, said the pro-war alliance jeopardised future attempts to disarm a country peacefully.

"This is a serious decision because the disarmament of Iraq is taking place and the inspections have showed that this is a credible way of disarming a country," Mr Chirac said on Tuesday.

"To act without the legitimacy of the United Nations, to favour the use of force over law, is taking a serious responsibility.

"Iraq does not represent today an immediate threat that would justify an immediate war."

Does the scale of the threat from the Iraqi dictator justify the launch of a war that will certainly bring death to thousands?... No
German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder
Later on Tuesday, Paris' US ambassador, Jean-David Levitte, said France would join US-led action if Iraq used biological and chemical weapons.

"If Saddam Hussein uses chemical or biological weapons it would change totally the situation for President Chirac and the French Government," Mr Levitte said on CNN.

"President Chirac will have to decide what we could do to help the American troops, but I confirm it would change completely our perception of the situation."

(War) would be a mistake with the most serious consequences
Russian President Vladimir Putin
In Germany, Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder made a television statement, saying there was no reason to break off the disarmament process.

"My question has been and remains: does the scale of the threat from the Iraqi dictator justify the launch of a war that will certainly bring death to thousands of innocent men, women and children? My answer in this case has been and remains: No," he said.

Those who decide that all peaceful means are exhausted assume a grave responsibility before God, their conscience and history
Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls
"The disarmament steps that the UN Security Council has demanded are being increasingly fulfilled.

"I am deeply moved by the fact that I know my attitude is shared by the overwhelming majority of our people, and also by the majority of the UN Security Council and the world's peoples."

Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has called the war a "mistake with the most serious consequences", spoke to US President George W Bush on Tuesday, stressing the importance of their relationship, but expressing concern.

"Mr Putin expressed regret in connection with Washington's decision on an ultimatum and also in connection with the failure of diplomatic efforts to achieve a mutually acceptable compromise," a Kremlin statement said.

In other developments:

  • A Russian parliamentary vote on ratifying a US-Russia nuclear arms treaty was delayed over the Iraq crisis, said the deputy chairman of the Duma foreign affairs committee, Sergei Shishkaryov
  • Portugal's government was facing a censure motion for hosting the US-UK-Spain "council of war" on the Azores, with PM Jose Manuel Durao Barroso described by the main opposition leader as "an accomplice of a very grave violation of international law"
  • Denmark said it would send a submarine and a corvette to join the military campaign
  • Belgium's Prime Minister, Guy Verhofstadt, said US military equipment could still cross Belgian territory, reversing a weekend ruling by Defence Minister Andre Flahaut
  • Spain, a key ally of the US and UK, announced it would not send any combat troops to help the war but 900 support personnel and a hospital ship capable of treating victims of chemical or biological weapons will be deployed
The Vatican, which has consistently urged a peaceful solution, warned that those who went to war were assuming great responsibility.

"Those who decide that all peaceful means that international law makes available are exhausted assume a grave responsibility before God, their conscience and history," said Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls.

UK resignations

In the UK, the crisis continued to prompt members of Tony Blair's government to resign.

Two junior ministers followed former foreign secretary Robin Cook in standing down, but International Development Secretary Clare Short announced she would stay.

UK Foreign Secretary Jack Straw pulled out of an EU foreign ministers' meeting in Brussels in order to attend the debate, sending Europe Minister Dennis MacShane to replace him.




WATCH AND LISTEN
US President George W Bush
addresses the American people


The BBC's Sophie Hutchinson
"Baghdad has already dismissed the president's ultimatum"



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