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Many European Countries Criticize Attack on Iraq

In Europe there has been widespread criticism of the war to oust Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, but supporters of military action say the threat from weapons of mass destruction is real and leaves no room for neutrality.

French President Jacques Chirac, who has been an outspoken critic of the war, says France regrets the U.S.-led attack, which took place without the sort of United Nations approval that he wanted. The French leader expressed hope for a short war, but said no matter what the duration, the conflict will have heavy consequences.

Turkish President Ahmet Necdet Sezer criticized the U.S. attack, saying the U.N. Security Council's weapons inspection process should have been allowed to run its course. And he argued it was not right for the United States to act unilaterally.

In Moscow, Russian President Vladimir Putin called the war a serious political mistake and asked for a quick end to the fighting. Mr. Putin said that the use of force will lead to a world in which nobody will feel secure.

In Brussels, the president of the European Commission, Romano Prodi, described this as a sad day for all nations. He also urged that Iraq not be broken up after the conflict.

The Vatican said it was deeply pained by the U.S.-led attack, as well as by Baghdad's failure to respect U.N. resolutions. But Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, a strong supporter of Washington's stance on Iraq, said he hoped for a short war.

Another backer of military action, Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, said his government firmly supports the attack. He argued that the threat that terrorists could get their hands on chemical, biological or nuclear weapons is real and leaves no room for neutrality.

The Dutch government also reaffirmed its support for military action in Iraq but said it could not contribute troops without a consensus at home. Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende said freedom and safety for all -including the people of Iraq, should be the highest goal.

There were scattered protests across Europe against the military action. In Berlin, thousands of students rallied against the war, and there were similar demonstrations in Italian cities.

Meanwhile, extra security forces were mobilized across Europe to guard embassies, military installations and borders amid fears of terror attacks.

All this comes as leaders of the EU nations prepared for a previously scheduled summit in Brussels Thursday night.