India Says Attack on Iraq Is Unjustified
Thu Mar 20,10:15 AM ET
By NEELESH MISRA, Associated Press Writer
NEW DELHI, India - India on Thursday called the strike on Iraq (news - web sites) unjustified, as American flags were burned and protests held in a country where Saddam Hussein (news - web sites) is not popular but outrage at the U.S.-led attack is winning him sympathy.
"The military action begun today ... lacks justification," India's foreign ministry said. "We sincerely hope that the Iraqi people will not be subject to further hardships, sufferings, loss of lives and damage to property from an extended military operation."
U.S. President George W. Bush (news - web sites) spoke to Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee over the telephone Thursday, an Indian foreign ministry official said on the condition of anonymity. Details of the phone call were not immediately available.
"Killer Bush! Down! Down! This dictatorship won't do!" shouted some 100 placard-waving women activists from several countries who assembled at the U.S. Embassy's cultural center in New Delhi, shouting slogans against the United States and Bush.
The women blocked traffic in New Delhi's busiest business hub, Connaught Place. Police chased them with bamboo sticks and arrested two.
Vajpayee met with senior Cabinet colleagues to discuss the fallout of the Iraq crisis, especially on oil prices and the safety of the approximately 3.5 million Indian expatriates in the Middle East.
He was scheduled to discuss the situation in Iraq with opposition leaders Saturday.
In Lucknow, the capital of India's most populous state of Uttar Pradesh, communist protesters burned the American flag and shouted slogans against the United States and Bush in front of the state assembly building. They dispersed peacefully.
Saddam has limited support among India's 140 million Muslims and almost none among other citizens of this country of 1.02 billion, most of whom are Hindu.
But the U.S. government's war rhetoric and actions over Iraq have evoked outrage, and helped create sympathy for Saddam — who many think is being targeted at the wrong time and for the wrong reasons.
"This is the beginning of the end of the domination of Western nations," said popular Indian filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt, who in January refused Bush's invitation to a prayer breakfast at the White House.
"It is going to be a long drawn-out tragedy. They may win this battle but they will lose this war," he said.
In the state assembly of Jammu-Kashmir (news - web sites), lawmakers shouted slogans against the United States and Bush, and later adjourned for a day to protest the attack. Jammu-Kashmir is India's only Muslim-majority state.
"It would be wrong to suggest that this is a war between Christians and Muslims. This is a war of self interest launched by the sole superpower," said the state's law and parliamentary affairs minister, Muzaffar Beig.
Two special Air India flights brought 950 Indians home from Kuwait on Thursday just as the U.S.-led military strike began.
In New Delhi, Anisha Massey, a sales clerk walking to work, said Bush "is more of a threat to world peace than Saddam Hussein because America can't be touched. You can't oppose anything they (Americans) say, they are too powerful."
A few Indians, though, do support the U.S. actions.
"War is not good, but if Iraq is wrong, then a war against them is OK," said Suraj Kumar, arranging flowers in his florist shop.