Saturday, September 24, 2005

LONDON — Acts of terrorism are sometimes justified, London Mayor Ken Livingstone said last week. There is often no other way to fight oppression than using “the assassin’s bullet or the assassin’s bomb,” he added.

Speaking at a London press conference on Thursday, Mr. Livingstone — called “Red Ken” for his outspoken and often controversial political views — said he has known terrorists he viewed as “courageous and principled.”

Asked by UPI whether he supports the British government’s plans for new anti-terrorist legislation, announced last week, Mr. Livingstone said he is concerned that the proposed offense of “glorifying terrorism” is very hard to define.

“It is very easy for politicians in the West to make these random denunciations of terrorist attacks, but then I have known terrorists that I viewed as courageous and principled,” he said.

Mr. Livingstone cited the example of a German Jewish friend whose job in the German Communist Party had been to kill Nazis.

“He knew how to make bombs, and he went and planted them, and he blew up Nazi Party headquarters. And the day they came to power, the central committee of the German Communist Party ordered him to leave [East] Germany … . He came to Britain, joined the Labor Party, was an active, good socialist.

“Now there’s a man who took a decision to kill, and I think it was right. I hope I would have had the courage to join him in that.”

Uzbekistan criticized

“But what do you say today to someone in Uzbekistan, where you have a monstrous and oppressive regime, which casually dismisses the lives of its people, a corrupt regime hanging onto power?”

Referring to demonstrations in Uzbekistan this year during which security forces opened fire on civilian protesters, he asked: “What option is there for someone who wants to see freedom, justice and democracy in Uzbekistan, other than to remove from power the people that keep that country in the grip of dictatorship?

“I see no way other than through the assassin’s bullet or the assassin’s bomb.

“Therefore, how do you get the dividing line between all these different groups? It’s going to be very difficult.”

It is very easy for those in the West to pass judgment, he continued: “We’re not suffering under the Uzbek dictatorship.”

Under the proposed anti-terrorist legislation, “glorifying terrorism” — indirect incitement to terrorism and dissemination of extremist literature — is to be outlawed. New offenses are also to be made of acts preparatory to terrorism, and giving or receiving terrorist training.

Police have also requested an extension to the period they may hold suspects without charge from 14 days to three months.

No one would object to anti-terrorist legislation that stopped “a couple of mad people claiming to be leaders of Islam,” he said. Although such people have few followers, they are able to infect susceptible young minds, he continued, “and it only takes three or four people to be infected in that way to lead to loss of life.”

Judicial review urged

However, such authority must be drawn up very carefully, he said, and should not be decided only by politicians, but also should be subject to judicial review. If detention without charge is to be extended, it should be supervised by a judge, to whom a defense lawyer could voice objections, he added.

Mr. Livingstone also predicted that the legacy of the Iraq war will be the dispersal of thousands of trained terrorists around the globe.

Asked by UPI when British troops should leave Iraq, he replied: “As rapidly as possible.” The mayor said that despite his initial opposition to the war, he had hoped that after the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime, some “Arab variant of democracy” might emerge.

“However, we are likely now to [end up with] a worse regime — perhaps a fundamentalist Shia regime, in which the advances women have made in Iraq are all rolled back — or a civil war.

“What we’ve now got is certainly the most effective training ground for terrorists anywhere since the end of the Afghan war [against Soviet invaders]. And when that comes to an end in Iraq, they will disperse to the four corners of the earth, thousands of them. That is that legacy.”

The current conflict in Iraq was inevitable because the politicians who planned the invasion ignored the advice of the military, Mr. Livingstone said.

The Pentagon advised President Bush that to effectively invade and control Iraq would require 500,000 troops, the London mayor noted. However, the administration shied away from such a figure for fear of losing popular support, and instead deployed just 150,000.

Likewise, the Bush administration, owing to its desire for Iraqi oil, he said, had sent U.S. troops immediately to guard oil installations, neglecting hospitals and vital public installations.

“The result was absolute chaos, the collapse of infrastructure, widespread looting and effectively the nightmare we now have.

“If you’re going to invade a country … at least you could actually mobilize some resources and go and do it properly,” he said.

Outspokenness defended

Mr. Livingstone dismissed suggestions that as the mayor of the British capital, he should refrain from making overtly political statements. As the mayor of a major world city, he countered, it is important to be engaged with international events that affect us all.

Asked if he stood by a past statement that the Saudi royal family should be hanged from lampposts, Mr. Livingstone said the human rights abuses, support for terrorism and corruption of the House of Saud meant he “longed for the day” when it was overthrown, though this is up to the Saudi people.

However, he expressed concern that such an event might not be the progressive-led transformation that it might have been in the 1960s or ‘70s, but might involve the imposition of a more hard-line version of Wahhabi Islam, which he does not favor.

Pressed about his past criticism of the Israeli government, Mr. Livingstone said criticism of any government “based on ethnic cleansing” is “absolutely valid.”

“Sixty years on, still the people that were ethnically cleansed from their lands have not been allowed to return. Forty years on, the illegal occupation of the West Bank continues to disfigure politics … . I have to say I think my criticism is absolutely valid.”

He has been no ruder about the Israeli government than about successive British governments, he said.

“Criticism is good for governments. They don’t get enough of it.”

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