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EU rallies behind US as Taliban accuses Washington of sabotaging peace attempts

Anti-American protesters in Lahore, Pakistan

(Keystone)

As Europe Union leaders rallied behind the United States, Afghanistan's ruling Taliban accused Washington of sabotaging any attempts to avoid war.

A spokesman for the leader of the Taliban, Mullah Mohammad Omar, said the US had rejected 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, which seized power in 1996.

US builds up forces

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.

Saudi Arabia reportedly refused to grant the US access to a key air base, forcing US military planners to consider moving the operations to another unspecified country. This could delay air strikes for several weeks, said the Washington Post.

US throws lifeline to airlines

Meanwhile 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 President George W Bush for approval, also includes provisions limiting the airlines' liability for last week's attacks, which left more than 6,800 people dead or missing.

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 recovery work is continuing with workers using more heavy equipment to clear away the ruins of the World Trade Center. The move is being been seen as a tacit admission that hope of finding any of the missing 6,333 alive is 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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