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World: Afghan Clerics Urge Bin Laden To Leave

KABUL, WASHINGTON, 20 September 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Islamic clerics from across Afghanistan have adopted a resolution asking suspected terrorist Osama bin Laden to leave Afghanistan voluntarily. The ruling Taliban's news agency reported that the clerics passed the resolution during the second day of a gathering in Kabul.

The United States and the United Nations Security Council have demanded that Afghanistan hand over bin Laden for trial immediately, without conditions.

The U.S. has named bin Laden, who lives in Afghanistan as a guest of the Taliban, as the chief suspect responsible for terror attacks in the United States on 11 September.

Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar yesterday criticized the U.S. for making charges against bin Laden without presenting evidence, and for threatening military action.

A Taliban official said the clerics assembled in Kabul today also passed a resolution that called for a jihad, or holy struggle, if the United States attacks Afghanistan.

Omar had offered to hold talks with the U.S. government.

But White House spokesman Ari Fleischer rejected any talks with Taliban, saying President George W. Bush has made clear that now is the time for action against terrorism, not negotiations.

The United States has ordered fighter and bomber aircraft to the Persian Gulf region in preparation for the promised war on terrorism in retaliation for the devastating attacks on New York and Washington.

U.S. defense officials said more than 100 combat and support aircraft are headed to the Gulf region to join U.S. forces already there. The deployment has been named "Operation Infinite Justice."

President George W. Bush is scheduled to address a joint session of Congress later today. Bush said he plans to talk about who may have carried out the terror attacks and their possible reasons for doing so. Aides to Bush said the president will not be giving details about any impending military action.

Bush yesterday called on Afghanistan's Taliban rulers to hand over accused terrorist leader Osama bin Laden. He urged countries that harbor terrorists to expel them or be held accountable.

"I would strongly urge any nation in the world to reject terrorism, expel terrorists. I would strongly urge the Taliban to turn over the Al Qaeda organizers who hide in their country."

U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft said the terrorists who planned and carried out the attacks that downed the World Trade Center and damaged part of the Pentagon probably were supported by foreign governments.

Ashcroft said he believed progress is being made in the investigation of the terror attacks, including tracking the source of funding for the men who hijacked the airliners that were used in the suicide attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Center.

"It's pretty clear that the networks that conduct these kinds of events [the terror attacks] are harbored and supported, sustained, protected, by a variety of foreign governments."

Ashcroft, the top U.S. law enforcement official, did not name any governments. But he said it is now time that governments understand with "crystal clarity" that the United States will not tolerate support for terrorist activities.

Bush and officials in his administration continued efforts to rally global support for the battle against terrorism.

Bush met with Megawati Sukarnoputri, president of Indonesia, the world's largest Muslim country. Secretary of State Colin Powell held talks with the foreign ministers of Germany and Russia, who both promised assistance in the anti-terrorism effort. British Prime Minister Tony Blair is due to meet with the U.S. leadership today, and China's foreign minister is also due in Washington.

Pakistan's leader Pervez Musharraf said in a nationally televised speech that the U.S.-led war against terrorism is not directed against Islam. Musharraf said Pakistan is facing a "very serious" moment in its history. Musharraf has offered Pakistani assistance in possible U.S. military action to capture Osama bin Laden, who has been hiding in neighboring Afghanistan, and to destroy bin Laden's suspected terrorist network.