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Saturday, 30 March, 2002, 17:08 GMT
Cardinal urges calm over Iraq
Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor
Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor joins a chorus of disapproval
The head of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales has urged Britain and America not to take any action against Iraq which would fuel further violence in the Middle East.

Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor joined the growing chorus of opinion cautioning against fresh military intervention against Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

Speaking to BBC Radio 4's Today programme, he said it would be a "dangerous step to take".

The consequences must be very, very seriously looked at

Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor

His comments came ahead of a march by thousands of campaigners in central London, following mounting speculation that the US is planning to attack Iraq as part of its ongoing war against terror.

The cardinal said Britain and the United States must take account of the impact on the situation in Israel and the Palestinian territories before launching any attack on the Baghdad regime.

"Anything that doesn't lead to greater stability in the Middle East, anything that doesn't lead to long term peace in the Middle East should not be done," the cardinal said.

Texas trip

"If a unilateral attack on Iraq would in fact cause instability, would cause the loss of ultimate peace in the Middle East, then, in my view, it would be a very dangerous step to take.

Anti-war demonstrators march in London
Thousands of protesters crammed into Trafalgar Square

"The consequences must be very, very seriously looked at."

He also urged UK Prime Minister Tony Blair not to take any action which would lead to a split with the rest of the European Union, where many countries are deeply concerned about the prospect of an attack on Iraq.

Mr Blair is to meet US President George Bush at a summit in Texas next week.

Saturday's CND-organised Don't Start Wars demonstration saw more than 3,500 protestors march from Hyde Park to Trafalgar Square.

The crowd stood beneath a sea of multi-coloured banners in the square and heard speeches from prominent anti-war campaigners.

Demonstrators waved "Don't Attack Iraq" and "War Is Not The Answer" placards.

Veteran Labour MP Tam Dalyell, who took part in the march, said that even the Iranians, who fought a devastating eight-year war against Saddam Hussein, opposed fresh military action against Iraq.

Missile defence

"It is no good demonising Saddam Hussein. He's not a nice man but demonising a country is a different matter," he added.

CND spokesman Nigel Chamberlain said the demonstration was against not only the "escalation of the war of terror" but also against US foreign policy, particularly its missile defence plan.

"We want the UK Government to use the special relationship to steer the US towards more peaceful paths," he said.

Activists fear the introduction of a missile defence shield will allow the US to use nuclear strikes without fear of reprisals.

And they believe the proposed use of two UK bases - Menwith Hill and Fylingdales in Yorkshire - to support the system would make Britain a target.

See also:

25 Mar 02 | UK Politics
Blair warns of terror 'marriage'
24 Mar 02 | UK Politics
Straw bids to ease Iraq fears
15 Mar 02 | UK Politics
Straw: No Iraq decision yet
12 Mar 02 | UK Politics
Straw outlines Iraq's 'severe threat'
28 Feb 02 | UK Politics
Blair hints at Iraq action
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