Crucial EU summit

Prime Minister Costas Simitis will today chair a meeting of the 15 leaders of the European Union in a high-stakes gamble aimed at getting the Union to speak with a single voice on the highly divisive issue of Iraq. But the failure by NATO countries to agree to a US request to bolster Turkey’s defenses boded ill for today’s meeting. Simitis, whose country holds the EU’s rotating presidency, arrived in Brussels yesterday to prepare for the summit. Foreign Minister George Papandreou, meanwhile, was meeting with his counterparts in the Arab League in Cairo, before flying to Brussels where he will chair a meeting of foreign ministers before the summit. Papandreou urged the Arab foreign ministers to push Saddam Hussein into complying with the demands of Security Council Resolution 1441, cooperate with UN arms inspectors and give up any weapons of mass destruction he may have. Papandreou also attended the Security Council briefing by arms inspectors Hans Blix and Mohamed ElBaradei on Friday. On Saturday, mass demonstrations were held in Athens and 52 other Greek cities and towns, as part of an international campaign to express opposition to war. Police said about 100,000 took part in the Athens protest, with organizers putting the figure at about 150,000. Some 50,000 more were estimated to have marched in the rest of Greece. In Athens, masked youths hurled Molotov cocktails at offices belonging to the Lambrakis Press in the building that houses the newspapers Ta Nea and To Vima. They burned one motor car and damaged several others. They also clashed sporadically with police during the march to the US Embassy. Yesterday, 13 youths were charged with a variety of crimes related to the violence, including felonies and misdemeanors. There were also clashes in Thessaloniki. In both cities, police used tear gas. In Brussels, Simitis stressed that it was the EU’s duty to discuss the Iraq issue. «Some countries objected, saying that this could lead to greater tension among the EU members,» he said. «But we cannot hold summit talks about things such as Africa and Timor and not discuss the basic problem that worries the world today,» he said. «If we did not discuss this, we would not be able to provide an answer to all those millions of people across the world who expressed themselves on this issue in one way or another. Simitis noted that the EU had expressed a common position in a foreign ministers’ meeting on January 27 and that this could be done again. He noted that the EU would not come up with an overall proposal for a solution as this was up to the United Nations.