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Last Updated: Monday, 5 January, 2004, 21:52 GMT
MEPs brush aside bomb campaign

By Quentin Sommerville
BBC, Brussels

By Monday lunchtime in Brussels there was little to suggest that the European Parliament had become the latest target of a bombing campaign which appears to be directed squarely at the European Union.

Bomb disposal experts had packed up, the fire brigade had left and there was little sign of any greatly increased police presence around the legislature.

Fire engine outside Brussels European Parliament building
Officials want to keep the parliament as accessible as possible
Some staff had been evacuated from their offices in the sprawling parliament building, but most continued their day as normal. Window cleaners remained uninterrupted as they set about their work at the parliament's information office.

Few MEPs were around as the parliament is not in session, but office staff continued with preparations for their return.

Even though it has a reputation for being distant from its electorate, Monday's response was typical from a organisation that prides itself on its accessibility to the general public.

"It's part of getting the balance right. We're not going to evacuate the entire building for two or three low level incendiary devices," said David Harley, spokesman for parliament president Pat Cox.

Anarchists suspected

Earlier in the day Mr Cox had condemned the attacks as a "criminal conspiracy against democracy". He urged MEPs and their families to take extra care in their homes, their constituency offices and at the parliament itself.

We decided that we couldn't let these people strangle and stifle democracy, that's why I've returned to Brussels as normal
Gary Titley
British MEP
Packages exploded at the offices of German MEP Hans-Gert Poettering and British MEP Gary Titley. A third device posted to Spanish MEP Jose Ignacio Salafranca did not explode.

Police suspect that anarchists based in Italy may be responsible for the attacks. All of the explosive devices found so far - including a string of attacks immediately after Christmas - have been posted from the northern Italian city of Bologna.

On 27 December, European Commission president Romano Prodi was unhurt, despite a package containing a booby-trapped book bursting into flames in his Italian home.

The president of the European Central Bank, Jean-Claude Trichet was also targeted at the bank's offices in Frankfurt, while Europe's cross-border law-enforcement agencies, Europol and Eurojust received packages at offices in The Hague.

Security review

But MEPs and officials in Brussels remained determined that Monday's attacks would not affect their work. Gary Titley told the BBC that despite the bombing he planned to continue with work as normal.

"It was very frightening for my staff, but we sat down this afternoon and decided that we couldn't let these people strangle and stifle democracy, that's why I've returned to Brussels as normal," he said.

Police in Belgium are now reviewing security around the EU quarter in Brussels. The parliament will meet the authorities on Tuesday to decide if it needs to heighten its current rating.

Security will probably have to be improved, but officials maintained that their priority would be to keep the parliament and its representatives as accessible as possible.

The BBC's Emma-Jane Kirby
"Police have evacuated some buildings"

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