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EU leaders unite behind U.S.

Antonio Vitorino and Otto Schily
EU Justice and Home Affairs Commissioner Antonio Vitorino (right) talks with German Interior MInister Otto Schily  

BRUSSELS, Belgium -- European Union leaders have shown their support for the U.S. by backing "targeted" retaliation against countries harbouring terrorists.

The 15 heads of government were meeting in a special summit in Brussels called following last week's attacks on New York and Washington.

In a joint statement read by the host, Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt, the EU leaders urged U.S. President George Bush to build "the broadest possible global coalition against terrorism."

The 15 heads of government also said they rejected "any equation of on the one hand, fanatical terrorist groups and the Arab and Muslim world in general."

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The statement said each EU country was prepared to aid the U.S. response "according to its means."

"We want these actions to be targeted," the declaration said, adding that targets can include "states abetting, supporting or harbouring terrorists."

The leaders added: "We express our total solidarity with the American people in the face of terrorist attacks."

"We reaffirmed our full solidarity not only from the heart but also from our sense of reason," French President Jacques Chirac said. "To be clear, we will not sit on the sidelines of this battle against this scourge."

The meeting, aimed at underlining support for the U.S., was held under unprecedented security.

Prime Minister Goeran Persson of Sweden demonstrated backing for the U.S. before the meeting, saying: "Solidarity, that is important, that we stand united for democracy and open society.

"We have a very strong mandate to take military action and if the United States does so, they have our support."

The EU quarter of Brussels was sealed off and metro stations near the summit venue shut from noon on Friday -- even though the meeting did not begin until Friday night.

Security teams began preparing the EU's Council of Ministers building for the summit as soon as a meeting of justice and home affairs ministers finished on Thursday afternoon.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair arrived at the summit direct from Washington where he met U.S. President George W. Bush to be briefed on the latest U.S. anti-terrorism blueprint.

The summit was called largely as a high-profile demonstration of European solidarity with the American people and President Bush.

The decision to meet followed a hectic round of consultations between Verhofstadt -- currently in the EU presidency and therefore chairing the summit -- and the fourteen other EU governments.

The only agenda item at the summit was the counter-terrorism campaign.

Blair, Chirac and an EU team headed by Belgian Foreign Minister Louis Michel reported back on their visits to Washington.

The meeting came as it was announced that NATO has cancelled a meeting of defence ministers' due to take place next Wednesday and Thursday in Naples, Italy.

NATO Secretary-General George Robertson said in a statement that he and his staff could not afford to be away from alliance headquarters while handling "crisis management responsibilities" following the attacks on the U.S.

On Thursday the EU approved tough new anti-terrorist measures in the wake of the attacks on New York and Washington.

EU justice and home affairs ministers approved a total of 37 proposals intended to stop terrorist groups from operating in the EU and to strengthen police and justice cooperation with the United States.

They also agreed to close legal loopholes that allow terror suspects to evade arrest.

The new measures are expected to come into force January 1 after ratification by the EU's 15 member parliaments.

Key provisions include a European search and arrest warrant, which will mean suspects sought for terrorism in one EU state will be pursued by police in all 15, and streamlined extradition procedures so suspects will automatically be handed over to the country where they are wanted.

• Blair, Chirac pledge global action
September 20, 2001
• Emergency summit for EU leaders
September 18, 2001
• Europe considers armed guards
September 15, 2001
• Analysis: Europe shows solidarity
September 12, 2001

• The European Union

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