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Bush says US economy still "fundamentally strong" after terrorist attacks

President George W. Bush addressed the United States on Friday in a radio broadcast

(Keystone)

In the wake of a week of panic selling on Wall Street, the United States President, George W. Bush, has sought to reassure Americans that the country's economy is "fundamentally strong."

"The terrorists who attacked the United States on September 11 targeted our economy as well as our people," Bush said in his weekly radio address. "They brought down a symbol of American prosperity, but they could not touch its source."

Blue-chip stocks registered the worst weekly loss since the Great Depression in 1933, because of fears that a war with Afghanistan was inevitable after the Taliban rejected a US ultimatum to surrender Washington's prime suspect, Osama bin Laden.

The Taliban on Saturday accused Washington of sabotaging any attempts to avoid war, by rejecting peace initiatives proposed by Afghanistan. These include the proposal for the prime suspect, Osama bin Laden, to leave the country voluntarily.

Foreign Minister Wakil Ahmed Mutawakil once again called on the US not to attack Afghanistan. He complained that there was still no evidence to prove bin Laden's involvement in the attacks of September 11.

"To blame an entire nation for the misdeeds of a few people, whose guilt has not been proven, is not a good thing," said Mutawakil. He added that the Taliban was increasingly considering declaring jihad, or holy war.

Meanwhile at an emergency summit in Brussels, EU leaders declared that a US response against the perpetrators of last week's attacks would be legitimate.

The summit's chairman, Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt, said: "We express our total solidarity with the American people in the face of the terrorist attacks. On the basis of the Security Council 1368, an American riposte is legitimate."

Verhofstadt said EU leaders wanted a global anti-terrorism coalition under United Nations auspices, which included Russia and Arab States. He stressed the distinction between "fanatical terrorist groups" and the Arab and Muslim world.

UAE cuts ties with Taliban

In a further development on Saturday, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) cut diplomatic relations with the Taliban government.

The Emirates News Agency quoted a foreign ministry official as saying that the UAE could not maintain diplomatic ties with a government that "refuses to respond to the clear will of the international community".

The move leaves Saudi Arabia and Pakistan as the only two countries to recognise the Taliban as Afghanistan's ruling government.

US builds up forces

Meanwhile Bush has ordered ships, aircraft and special operations troops to join a growing US strike force around Afghanistan.

US defence officials said about a dozen more warplanes would soon be moved to the Persian Gulf and Indian Ocean to join nearly 350 planes already in the area.

A military source told reporters that US military planes had also landed in military bases in Uzbekistan, close to the Afghan border.

US throws lifeline to airlines

In the US, Congress announced a financial lifeline to the faltering airline industry as jobs cuts topped 100,000 following last week's attacks. The Senate and the House of Representatives approved $5 billion in cash and $10 billion in loan guarantees to airlines.

The legislation, which now goes to Bush for approval, also includes provisions limiting the airlines' liability for last week's attacks, which left more than 6,800 people missing or dead.

The move follows a warning by industry executives earlier this week that several companies faced bankruptcy unless a federal bailout package was forthcoming.

Two of the hijacked jets belonged to AMR Corp's American Airlines and two belonged to UAL Corp's United Airlines.

Workers clear World Trade Center ruins

In New York, rescue workers started using more heavy equipment to clear away the ruins of the World Trade Center. The move has been seen as a tacit admission that hope of finding any of the missing 6,333 alive was all but lost.

No one has been found alive at the New York site since September 12, the day after the attack.

The attack on the Pentagon left 188 people dead or missing, including 64 on board the hijacked jetliners. Forty-four people are confirmed dead from the crash of a fourth hijacked plane in Pennsylvania.

swissinfo with agencies

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