- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 20, 2003

HONG KONG, March 20 (UPI) — Reaction in Asia to the start of the U.S. led war on Iraq was mixed Thursday with the two most powerful nations on the continent - China and Japan - taking opposite stands on the issue.

Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi told a swiftly convened news conference his country supported the launch of the action, the Kyodo news agency reported.

"I understand and support the United States' use of force against Iraq," Koizumi said. "Japan supports the policy of U.S. President Bush that the operation is to disarm Iraq, not to attack Iraqi people."

In Beijing, China called for an immediate end to the attack on Iraq. In an unprecedented move, Chinese state-run television broke into its regularly scheduled programming and broadcast live CNN footage of the military action.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Kong Quan said the initial stages of the war on Iraq led by the United States showed "disregard for the opposition of the international community."

"China strongly calls for an immediate stop of military actions against Iraq, and a return to the track of political solutions on the Iraq issue," he said.

State-run media also broadcast U.S. President George W. Bush's address to the American public from the Oval Office Wednesday night, Thursday in Iraq, announcing the attack had begun.

In Beijing, soldiers blocked off the street in front of the Iraqi Embassy in the Jianguomenwai diplomatic section of the city. Security was stepped up at the American Embassy just a few blocks away and streets were closed to through traffic.

Indonesia, the world's largest Muslim nation, strongly condemned the attack.

"The government of Indonesia strongly deplores unilateral action by the United States and its allies against Iraq," President Megawati Sukarnoputri said in a statement.

Moderate and militant Muslims staged rallies outside the U.S. embassy in Jakarta to protest the war.

Demonstrators from a number of Muslim organizations, yelled anti-U.S. slogans and called on Washington to stop its attack on Iraq, eyewitnesses said.

"America is the real terrorist," the protestors chanted. "Bring (U.S. President George W.) Bush to justice as a war criminal."

Some Islamic organizations demanded the expulsion of diplomats from the United States, Britain and Australia following the war. They also warned U.S.-based companies operating across the country might be forced to close down.

In the Philippines, President Gloria Arroyo said her government was supporting efforts to rid Iraq of suspected weapons of mass destruction by force.

"The war has just begun. The Philippines is part of the coalition of the willing. We are giving political and moral support for actions to rid Iraq of weapons of mass destruction," she said in a speech to graduates of the Philippine Military Academy, according to the ABS-CBN network in Manila.

"This is a part of a long-standing security alliance. This is part of a global coalition against terrorism and this is vital to our national security," Arroyo said.

She added the military would not send troops to Iraq to join the U.S.-led campaign. But she said the country would extend "peacekeeping and humanitarian assistance" to Iraq.

Elsewhere in the region, Thailand said Thursday it was expelling eight Iraqis, including one said linked to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, on grounds of national security, local media reported.

The move brings to 11 the number of Iraqis expelled from Thailand this week. On Wednesday, three low-ranking Iraqi diplomats were asked to leave, also for security reasons.

Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra told reporters the eight Iraqis had been posing as tourists but had been in Thailand for some time.

Someone identified as a "high ranking security source" told The Nation newspaper some of the eight had set up front companies — including tour companies and currency exchange — and underground banking operations to help channel money back to the Baghdad regime.

"One of the eight worked for a son of President Saddam Hussein," Thaksin said.

"If we allowed him to continue his stay here, he could commit an act of terrorism, which could threaten the lives of innocent Thais."

In Indonesia, police said they had seized 4 tons of ammonium nitrate — a fertilizer that can be used to make home made explosive — from members of the Jemaah Islamiya, an extremist Islamic group linked to al-Qaida.

U.S. officials have said for some time they are concerned that Iraqi agents or sympathizers, or terror groups seeking to exploit the situation, might launch attacks against U.S. citizens, interests or symbols in the region after the commencement of hostilities.


(With reporting by Sukino Harisumarto in Jakarta, Indonesia)

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