Britain's prime minister gives Taliban ultimatum

From Wire Reports

BRIGHTON, England - Britain warned the Taliban yesterday that they had run out of chances to give up Osama bin Laden and now must "surrender the terrorists or surrender power."

And in a sign that the Pakistani government is washing its hands of the Taliban's fate, Pakistan declared that Afghanistan's Taliban rulers "don't have much time" to stave off military strikes.

Prime Minister Tony Blair's emotional speech to his annual Labor Party conference was the toughest warning yet by a European leader.

"The Taliban aid and abet him. He will not desist from further attacks, they will not stop helping him," he said, referring to bin Laden.

"We stated the ultimatum. They haven't responded.

"I say to the Taliban: Surrender the terrorists or surrender power. It's your choice," Blair said.

Blair stopped short of declaring that military strikes against Afghanistan were inevitable while stressing that any such strikes would be "proportionate, targeted" and would be launched with avoiding civilian casualties in mind.

"We are not the ones who waged war on the innocent. We seek the guilty," he said.

"Be in no doubt, bin Laden and his people organized this atrocity," the prime minister said. Several hundred Britons are presumed dead in the attacks.

"Whatever the dangers of the action we take, the dangers of inaction are far, far greater," Blair said.

Speech in line with Bush

The prime minister spoke hours after President Bush had warned that "there will be a consequence" if the Taliban fail to turn over bin Laden and his network and destroy his training camps. U.S. officials said the White House had coordinated with Blair about what he would say.

The Taliban ambassador to Pakistan, Abdul Salam Zaeef, dismissed the threats by the United States and its allies, saying, "We don't want to surrender [bin Laden] without any proof, any evidence."

He also dismissed NATO's claims that Washington had presented the alliance with conclusive evidence.

"If they are giving it [evidence] to the other countries, it belongs to them, not to us," he replied. "They haven't given it to us."

In his speech, Blair sought to reassure members of the Labor Party that humanitarian aid would be as important as military strikes. He called the aftermath of the attacks in the United States a chance to "reorder this world around us."

"There is a coming together," he said. "The power of community is asserting itself. We are realizing how fragile are our frontiers in the face of the world's new challenges."

He called for campaigns to lift Africa out of poverty and halt climate change and said the world would not abandon Afghanistan once the Taliban regime was removed from power.

Jack Straw, Blair's foreign secretary, accused opponents of action against terrorism of acting like those who sought to appease the Nazis in the 1930s.

"If we believe that those who planned, organized and perpetrated the attacks in New York, Washington and Pittsburgh can be dealt with by negotiation and reason, we wholly delude ourselves," Straw said. "Like fascists, these people are driven by hate, violence and destruction."

Pakistan plans no talks

In Islamabad, Pakistan, Foreign Ministry spokesman Riaz Mohammed Khan said, "Pakistan has conveyed to the Taliban what the situation is, what are the dangers, what the international community is expecting them to do. We have told them they don't have much time."

He said Pakistan had no plan to send another delegation for talks with the Taliban authorities. In recent days, two other delegations failed to budge the Taliban.

"But these efforts can be made on the spur of the moment," he added.

Khan spoke to reporters after U.S. Ambassador Wendy Chamberlin briefed Pakistan's president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, on the status of the investigation into the terrorist attacks Sept. 11.

Khan said that despite Chamberlin's briefing, Pakistan has still not been presented with definitive proof that bin Laden's al-Qaida organization was behind the suicide hijackings.

The United States has pledged to share evidence of bin Laden's guilt with countries that, like Pakistan, have joined an international coalition against terrorism.

With a military strike possibly nearing, the Taliban also appeared anxious to dispel rumors of an internal split. Mullah Mohammed Hassan, thought to be at odds with the clique around Taliban supreme leader Mullah Mohammed Omar, made a rare public appearance at a pro-government rally in the city of Gardez, apparently in a display of Taliban unity.

Judicial officials in Paris said a French-Algerian man now jailed in France has given authorities a wealth of compelling detail, describing his recruitment at bin Laden's home in Afghanistan for a suicide bombing against the U.S. Embassy in Paris.

Djamel Beghal's revelations, made last month in Dubai and described yesterday by the officials, led authorities to arrest a number of other suspects in a broad plot to attack U.S. interests in Europe, the officials said.

At a meeting at bin Laden's home, he was told by bin Laden's aide that "the time has come for action," according to Europe-1 radio.

Jean-Louis Bruguiere, a French anti-terrorism judge in charge of the investigation, opened his probe into the alleged embassy plot Sept. 10 - a day before the attacks in New York and Washington.

Still unknown is whether the case has any links to the attacks Sept. 11. For now, French officials say the cases are separate.

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