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Last Updated:  Thursday, 20 March, 2003, 14:09 GMT
Time to back troops - McConnell
Jack McConnell
Jack McConnell praised the UK's forces
Scotland's first minister has urged the country to rally behind the UK's armed forces in the Gulf.

Speaking after coalition forces launched initial missile strikes on Iraq, Jack McConnell said the UK's forces were professional, thorough and well prepared and the public should give them their full support.

He added that he was keen to respect the rights of demonstrators to protest against the war but stressed that such dissent would be severely punished in Iraq.

Mr McConnell said: "I think everybody in Scotland, not just the families of the troops but everybody in Scotland, will want to support our troops, will want to consider the difficult situation that they are in, but will also know that they are professional, they are thorough, they are well prepared.

I hope that those who are demonstrating remember that in Iraq for those kind of demonstrations they would probably have their tongues cut out
First Minister Jack McConnell

"They will be firm in their resolve and we need to be firm in our backing for them.

The first minister added: "What is important now is that any conflict is targeted.

"The fewest possible civilian casualties, the quickest possible most succesful conclusion, and I hope at the end of the day, freedom and liberty for the peope of Iraq is ultimately what we are seeking to achieve."

Turning to anti-war protests, he said: "I am very keen that we in this country respect the fact that we have a right to democratic protest, a right to express a point of view.

"I hope that those who are demonstrating remember that in Iraq for those kind of demonstrations they would probably have their tongues cut out, they would probably be tortured, they would probably be locked up and some of them might even be killed by the regime."

John Swinney
John Swinney backed further diplomacy

Scottish National Party Leader John Swinney said he had constantly argued that diplomacy should prevail.

Mr Swinney said that UN weapons inspectors should have been allowed to continue their work to investigate claims that Iraq possesses weapons of mass destruction.

He was now hoping for a swift end to the conflict and that casualties should be kept to a minimum.

Mr Swinney said: "We now, however, face the reality that our troops are in a conflict and I pray for the safe return of our forces, a speedy end to the war and the minimum of civilian casualties.

"The prime minister has said the purpose of this action is the disarmament of Iraq and that the government is confident of a swift victory.

"The onus is now on him to ensure that military action is conducted in a way that avoids creating a humanitarian catastrophe."

'Post-war reconstruction'

Scottish Tory Leader David McLetchie said he extended his "thoughts and prayers" to forces personnel and their families.

He said: "Nobody wants war, but there are times when armed conflict is necessary to deal with dangerous and tyrannical regimes which pose a threat to international order. This is such a time."

Scottish Liberal Democrat Leader Jim Wallace said: "It is important that proper consideration is being given to post-war reconstruction.

"That Iraq will be truly liberated, not only in political terms but in terms of liberating people through decent health and proper education."

Persistent critics of war, including independent MSP Dennis Canavan, have repeated without success their demand for an emergency debate in the Scottish Parliament.

Scottish Socialist Party Leader Tommy Sheridan said: "I think British forces are now involved in not just an unjust and immoral war but they are also involved in an illegal war."

Mr Sheridan said Prime Minister Tony Blair and US President George W Bush should be prosecuted.

Green MSP Robin Harper said: "There is no inconsistency in continuing to oppose the bombing of Iraq but also to support our servicemen and women who have been ordered into an illegal war and have been put in extreme danger by the foolhardy decisions of Tony Blair and his government.

"Our thoughts are with service personnel and their families, as well as with the families of Iraq."

Political editor Brian Taylor
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