Poll shows 80% of Britons back country's role in gulf WAR IN THE GULF

January 20, 1991|By Gilbert A. Lewthwaite | Gilbert A. Lewthwaite,London Bureau of The Sun

LONDON -- Anti-war protests in major British cities yesterday were countered by an authoritative opinion poll showing 80 percent popular support here for Britain's involvement in the fighting.

Four of five people questioned said they supported both the military ejection of Iraqi troops from Kuwait and the presence of British troops alongside U.S. troops in the multinational coalition.

The new poll, published in today's Sunday Times, found that 84 percent of those surveyed approve of Prime Minister John Major's handling of the crisis.

It found that British women are more concerned than men by the prospect of casualties. One in three women believes the crisis does not justify casualties, compared with one in five men of the same opinion.

Yesterday, anti-war sentiment brought protesters out into the streets of several cities, including London. At a rally in Hyde Park, speakers called for an immediate cease-fire and a Middle East peace conference.

Tony Benn, a left-wing Labor parliamentarian and leading opponent of war in the gulf, said at the London rally: "Humanity must come to its senses before this tragedy gets totally out of control; and we must all unite to demand an immediate end to the war."

Accusing the government of censoring news reports to convey the impression of a "clean" and "clinical" war, he said: "Modern warfare is unspeakably brutal and the horrific bombing of Baghdad and other Iraqi cities will almost certainly have cost the lives of many thousands of innocent men, women and children."

Iraqi officials claim heavy civilian loss of life in the attacks, but allied officers assert that precision bombing has kept civilian casualties to a minimum.

Mr. Major warned the British public that the victory for the multinational alliance might take "a considerable time. It has been a good start, but there is a very considerable amount still to be done," he said, echoing the sort of caution that is emanating from Washington to counter the first-day euphoria.

British Defense Secretary Tom King revealed yesterday that a new version of the Tornado fighter-bomber had entered the conflict overnight. It is the Tornado GR1-A, specially adapted for reconnaissance missions. Two of the planes were rushed to the gulf after being adapted for conditions there. On their first mission, flying at 40,000 feet and scanning the desert with infrared, night-vision surveillance systems, they located a mobile Scud missile launcher. Other planes were directed to the target to give it what Mr. King called "further attention."

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