- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 20, 2003

LONDON — President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair said yesterday’s bombings in Turkey have strengthened their resolve to fight global terrorism, even as thousands marched in London protesting that policy.

“These are al Qaeda killers killing Muslims,” the president said during a joint news conference with Mr. Blair. “They need to be stopped, and we will stop them.”

Although yesterday’s attacks killed mostly Muslims, four of the 27 casualties were British.

“What this latest terrorist outrage shows us is that this is a war,” Mr. Blair said. “Our response is not to flinch or give way or concede one inch.”

The prime minister said it was “truly bizarre” for demonstrators to object to a war against terrorism that has resulted in the liberation of severely oppressed populations in both Afghanistan and Iraq.

Mr. Bush contented himself with championing the protesters’ right to assemble.

“Freedom is beautiful,” he said in Britain’s ornate Foreign and Commonwealth Offices. “It’s a fantastic thing to come to a country where people are able to express their views.”

Although protesters estimated they would turn out 100,000 people for an anti-Bush march through London yesterday, police said only 25,000 people actually participated in the demonstration, which ended at Trafalgar Square. Police said the crowd then grew to roughly 70,000, although protesters insisted the number was in excess of 150,000.

One demonstrator brandished a picture of a pretzel with the caption: “We hope you choke.” It was a reference to an episode in January 2002 when the president choked on a pretzel, lost consciousness, fell and bruised his face in the White House residence.

Others waved placards emblazoned with the words “STOP BU$H,” with a bloody bullet hole substituting for the letter “O.” As night fell across London, protesters toppled and stomped on a large, gold-colored effigy of the president clutching a missile.

Although polls showed more Britons supporting Mr. Bush than opposing him, British broadcaster Nick Robinson of Independent Television News repeatedly questioned the president about fervent anti-Bush sentiment.

“Why do they hate you, Mr. President?” he asked. “Why do they hate you in such numbers?”

“I don’t know that they do,” replied Mr. Bush, who pointed out that protests were banned by Saddam Hussein and the current regime in North Korea.

“I fully understand people don’t agree with war,” he added. “But I hope they agree with peace and freedom and liberty.”

Seeking to connect the president’s visit to the bombings in Istanbul, Mr. Robinson asked Mr. Blair to respond to the notion that “British people have died and been maimed as a result of you appearing here today, shoulder to shoulder with a controversial president.”

Mr. Blair strongly disputed the idea that Britain and the United States “have somehow brought this upon ourselves.”

“What has caused the terrorist attack today in Turkey is not the president of the United States, is not the alliance between America and Britain,” Mr. Blair said. “What is responsible for that terrorist attack is terrorism, are the terrorists.”

Asked about troop levels in Iraq, Mr. Bush deferred to the Pentagon, saying: “We could have less troops in Iraq, we could have the same number of troops in Iraq, we could have more troops in Iraq, [whatever is] necessary to secure Iraq.”

A senior administration official later said U.S. military commanders would probably need fewer troops in the future, especially now that large numbers of Iraqi security forces are being trained.

The official also elaborated on the president’s Wednesday speech, in which he vowed the United States would stop turning a blind eye to repression by Middle East “elites” for the sake of preserving stability. The official confirmed Mr. Bush was referring to not just American foes like Iran and Syria, but friends like Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

“Yes, he’s speaking to everybody — friends, as well as those who have been most brutal,” the official said in response to questions from The Washington Times.

“What the president really said yesterday that was so important was that he called it out,” said the source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “He talked about it in a way that American presidents have not been willing to.

“We’ve tended not to talk about this, not to talk about the fact that we were prepared to live with authoritarianism in the search for stability,” the official added. “That’s one of the first times we’ve actually been willing to admit this is a problem.”

But like Mr. Bush, the official acknowledged it will take many years for countries like Saudi Arabia to become more democratic. Also, such change cannot be forced from outside nations like the United States.

“It certainly shouldn’t be America all guns blazing, going in to try — don’t write that; that was a bad metaphor — America on the charge — let me try again,” the official struggled. “It shouldn’t be America’s democracy, made in America.”

The Times asked if the slow pace of change means the Bush administration must continue to turn a blind eye to repression in such nations in the short term.

“No, it’s not a matter of turning a blind eye,” the official said. “It’s a matter of speaking up for these values.”

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