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Russians Evacuated in Pakistan

MOSCOW - Russia is sending two planes to Pakistan to bring home citizens because of concerns for their safety, a spokesman for the Emergency Situations Ministry said Friday.

About 130 people, the relatives of diplomats and other Russians living in Pakistan, will be evacuated Saturday from Islamabad and Karachi.

The official said Moscow was concerned for the safety of its citizens because of growing tensions in the region over expected U.S. assaults on terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden and his training camps in neighboring Afghanistan.

The United States contends bin Laden was behind the terror attacks on New York and Washington Sept. 11.

-- Martin Thompson (, October 05, 2001


The CountDown clock is falling fast . . .


Military, diplomatic stranglehold tightens on Taliban ISLAMABAD, Oct 5 (AFP) - Saturday October 6, 1:03 AM

Afghanistan's ruling Taliban found itself locked in a military and diplomatic stranglehold Friday, as it renewed desperate appeals for negotiations and an offer to put Osama bin Laden on trial.

A diplomatic offensive to shore up support from Afghanistan's neighbours for US-led military strikes gained momentum, with US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in Uzbekistan and British Prime Minister Tony Blair visiting Pakistan. Both countries could provide forward military bases for a US and British attack on Afghanistan to root out terrorists and confront the Taliban, but they have concerns about provoking extremists within their own borders.

Following talks with President Pervez Musharraf in Islamabad, Blair said both sides had agreed that any post-Taliban administration in Afghanistan would have to be "broad based, and every key ethnic group included." Pakistan has "a valid interest in close involvement with the arrangements for any such successor regime," Blair added.

While Blair described the evidence linking Saudi dissident Osama bin Laden to last month's terrorist attacks as "overwhelming and compelling," Musharraf was more circumspect. Musharraf said he personally felt, as did his government, that there was sufficient evidence "leading to an association" between the attacks and bin Laden. In Uzbekistan, President Islam Karimov said he opposed the use of Uzbek territory to launch ground attacks or air strikes on Afghanistan. However, he granted the United States use of an airfield and other facilities for aircraft, helicopters and the stationing of personnel for search-and-rescue missions linked to an eventual military operation.

US, British and Australian forces, meanwhile, remained on stand-by within striking distance of Afghanistan. US forces make up the bulk of the deployment. More than 35,000 military personnel, 350 aircraft and at least two aircraft battle groups were standing by off South Asia and in the Arabian peninsula. Commandos are already reportedly inside Afghanistan scouting out targets. In Italy, a top aide to former Afghan monarch Mohammed Zahir Shah said an envoy would be sent to Pakistan to outline plans for a post-Taliban government. The move would constitute the first direct contact between a united Afghan opposition and Pakistan since Zahir Shah forged a powerful supreme council uniting disparate opposition groups at talks in Rome this week. But the frail ex-king, who turns 87 next week, will have to tread a fine line to balance open hostility towards Pakistan within the council, and progress towards a stable government acceptable to Afghanistan's powerful neighbour.

Dr Abdullah Abdullah, chief spokesman for the opposition Northern Alliance in Afghanistan, warned Pakistan on Friday not to try and influence the future leadership of the country. "A single neighbouring country should avoid playing such a role especially if that country is Pakistan, a country which created this problem. Pakistan should forget about playing the role of a kingmaker," Abdullah said. Abdullah also played down suggestions that the council could result in the election of Zahir Shah as the next head of state. "It is not an issue of inaugurating the former king as head of state. It is an issue of deciding what will be the political structure in post-Taliban Afghanistan. "It is a decision the council has to take and later on the people of Afghanistan."

In a seemingly doomed attempt to buy some breathing space, Taliban Ambassador to Pakistan Abdul Salam Zaeef said the militia would put bin Laden on trial if it received "concrete evidence" of the Saudi- born dissident's alleged involvement in the September 11 attacks on the United States. "We would try him in Afghanistan and if America is not satisfied, we are also ready to find an Islamic way to put him on trial," Zaeef told the Afghan Islamic Press agency. The ambassador also reiterated his appeal for the United States to take the path of negotiation rather than military action in its hunt for bin Laden. "Blood cannot cleanse blood. That's why negotiation is the better way," Zaeef said. Washington has already released a 20-page summary of evidence against bin Laden and his al-Qaeda network to embassies around the world, but insists that it will not share that information or negotiate with the Taliban.

Copyright, AFP FRANCE-PRESSE, Fair Use for Education and Research Only

-- Robert Riggs (, October 06, 2001.

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