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Last Updated:  Thursday, 20 March, 2003, 16:59 GMT
Europe split over war
Bochum demonstration
Many of Germany's protesters are schoolchildren
Demonstrations have been taking place in a number of European countries in protest against the start of the war on Iraq.

Thousands of people including schoolchildren and students took to the streets in Germany, Greece, Italy and Spain.

Some political leaders expressed grave concern at events in Iraq, while others backed the US strikes as an unfortunate necessity.

European Commission President Romano Prodi urged member states to overcome their divisions and "strive to build on what we share in our approach to the conflict".

EU Summit fears

France and Germany are leaders of Europe's anti-war block, while the UK, Spain, and Italy are firmly behind the US-led action against Iraq.

President Jacques Chirac said France "regretted" the attack "undertaken without the approval of the United Nations... which is the only legitimate framework for building peace in Iraq".

The National Assembly briefly suspended its Thursday session in symbolic protest.

In Germany, thousands of schoolchildren demonstrated in central Berlin.

Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder said in a televised address that the "wrong decision" has been reached.

"The logic of war has won over the chances of peace. Thousands of people will have to suffer terribly," he said.

UK Foreign Minister Jack Straw said Iraq's failure to disarm had left no option but the use of force.

He said the UK wanted Europe to work together on the humanitarian relief of Iraq and its reconstruction.

Anti-war protests are being held around the country, with campaigners urging people to stop work on what they called a "day of shame".

Frustration

Madrid demonstration
A spontaneous student protest is taking place in Madrid
In Italy anti-war demonstrations took place in a number of cities, while the three biggest unions called for a two-hour general strike to begin at 1500 (1400 GMT).

Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said: "Unfortunately, the diplomatic channels being exhausted, the forced disarming of Saddam Hussein is a tragic necessity for the international community."

Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar reaffirmed Spain's solidarity with the fight "against terrorism and weapons of mass destruction".

He spoke as thousands of students demonstrated in central Madrid, and a Spanish hospital ship set off on a non-combat mission to assist US and UK troops in the Gulf.

In Greece more than 100,000 people, many of them schoolchildren and students, marched to the US embassy in Athens.

Police reported a firebomb attack against a suburban branch of America's Citibank.

"Greece is against the war and Greece is not participating in the war," said government spokesman Tilemahos Hitiris said. "The Greek Government expresses its disappointment."

Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt said his country was "profoundly disappointed".

Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende said the Netherlands gave "political support to the action launched against Saddam Hussein".

Portuguese Prime Minister Jose Manuel Durao Barroso said: "At this difficult hour, Portugal reaffirms its support for its allies, with whom it shares the values of freedom and democracy."

Russian President Vladimir Putin said: "Military action can in no way be justified. Military action is a big political error."

Swiss arms export ban

The Turkish President Ahmet Necdet Sezer said: "The United Nations process on Iraq should have been allowed to finish. I do not find it right that the US behaved unilaterally before that process ended."

A Vatican spokesman said the Pope was deeply pained by the latest events in Iraq and deplored the interruption of attempts to find a peaceful solution.

Switzerland banned all military exports to countries engaged in the war against Iraq. A spokesman said it would break the country's neutrality rules to do so, because the war had not been sanctioned by the UN.

Czech Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla said Czech forces would not take part in the US-led attacks, because they had not been authorised by the UN.

However he said a 400-strong Czech-Slovak anti-chemical force was ready to provide humanitarian assistance in the Gulf.

Slovak President Rudolf Schuster said his government would not shirk from the operation to disarm Iraq "and rid its suffering people of unbearable tyranny".

Hungarian Prime Minister Peter Medgyessy said the use of military force had become unavoidable, adding that he hoped the conflict would end quickly.

Albanian Prime Minister Fatos Nano said his country, which has offered 70 non-combat troops, was "proud to stand side-by-side" with its allies.

Bulgarian Foreign Minister Solomon Passi backed military action, saying Iraqi President Saddam Hussein had brought it on himself.

A Romanian Government statement said Romania supported "military operations designed to enforce UN resolutions".

Latvia and Estonia both backed the US-led military operation.

Slovenian Prime Minister Anton Rop regretted that war instead of diplomacy had prevailed.

Croatia, similarly, said it regretted the failure of diplomacy and the "lack of unity" in the UN Security Council.

Polish Prime Minister Leszek Miller said his country, which has staunchly backed military action, was taking steps to protect its infrastructure.


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