Conferences, concerts, sports matches canceled as world mourns U.S. terror attacks

Wednesday, September 12th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

TOKYO (AP) _ The world went on a terror alert Wednesday as governments stepped up security in the wake of audacious attacks in New York and Washington that left people around the globe wondering whether their cities might be next.

Malaysians feared the worst when two threats triggered the evacuation of separate skyscrapers, including thousands of people from the world's tallest buildings, the Petronas Twin Towers in Kuala Lumpur.

In Germany, threats targeted the Foreign Ministry and the Messeturm, one of the tallest buildings in Frankfurt, Germany. In Romania, false bomb threats caused numerous evacuations, including at the Culture Ministry, the Romanian Development Bank and the state telecommunications company headquarters.

All the threats appeared to have been pranks, but another chill was cast when the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta warned that terrorists may be planning a strike against American interests in Indonesia.

As the world recoiled, global leaders raced to prevent a possible repeat of the death and destruction unleashed Tuesday when hijacked airplanes crashed into New York's World Trade Center, destroying both towers and likely killing thousands of people.

It was a shock felt around the world.

``What about my country, or here in Tokyo? Will there be attacks as well?'' said British headhunter Nick Frank, poring over a Japanese newspaper with the banner headline, ``America Center of Simultaneous Terror.''

From Russia to Australia, soldiers mobilized, embassies locked their doors and stock markets shut down. Schools kept students home, and skyscrapers cut access. Leaders mourned, rushed home from abroad and hastily called crisis meetings.

Calling for ``utmost vigilance,'' Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi went on television to calm the country and outline his defense strategy: stabilize Japanese financial markets, step up military patrols and coordinate an emergency rescue team to help the United States dig out from the rubble.

That was cold comfort, however, on the streets of Tokyo, where a wary population still remembers the 1995 nerve gas attack on Tokyo's subway system that killed 12 people and sickened thousands.

Another terrorist attack ``could happen in Japan, too, since we're allies with America,'' bus driver Kohei Suzuki said.

In Japan, the U.S. Embassy was closed Wednesday, as were American diplomatic offices in several other countries, including Italy and Romania.

France's air force was placed on maximum alert Wednesday. Interior Minister Daniel Vaillant insisted that there has been no direct threat but that the measures were precautionary.

NATO and the U.S. military tightened security across the Balkans, placing troops on high alert.

Among the installations affected: Camp Bondsteel _ the sprawling headquarters in Kosovo for 5,400 U.S. troops with the NATO-led peacekeeping force; Eagle Base, the headquarters for the 3,500 U.S. troops based in Bosnia; and Camp Able Sentry, where U.S. forces in Macedonia are stationed.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair led a crisis meeting of senior security officials, and European Union officials were to do the same in Brussels, Belgium. NATO ambassadors also met, after telling much of the alliance's office staff to stay home as a precaution.

Traveling European Commission officials, some as far away as Singapore, were called home immediately. French President Jacques Chirac canceled a planned trip to Croatia and Yugoslavia.

Britain's Scotland Yard said it had marshaled 1,000 extra police for London's streets, to ``reassure the public,'' and Paris mobilized 600 soldiers and 1,300 police to boost security in the French capital. An additional 100 solders were sent to guard the French entrance of the Channel tunnel, which links France to England, and a nuclear plant in Normandy.

Addressing parliament, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said the Group of Eight _ the seven leading industrialized nations and Russia _ ``are considering the possibility of holding a summit which can undertake concrete steps.'' He did give details.

London and Vienna, Austria, banned commercial flights over their cities.

Sweden called off a summit meeting of 14 heads of state and government, mostly from Europe, to have taken place this weekend.

The European Central Bank gave an emergency injection of liquidity into monetary markets, meant to stabilize volatile financial swings.

The United Nations announced it was temporarily moving its international staff out of Afghanistan, home of Saudi dissident Osama bin Laden, who is among the suspects.

Meanwhile, Israel, a frequent target of terrorist attacks, closed itself off by air and land, a move almost unprecedented in peace time.

In a rare afternoon television address, Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian urged the public to stay calm, saying the island must ``stick together when facing a possible change in the international situation.''

Throughout Asia, black-clad special security forces and soldiers with bomb-sniffing dogs patrolled government buildings, airports and embassy neighborhoods.

International schools in Moscow, Bangkok, Jakarta and Tokyo canceled classes Wednesday.

Worry also ran high that other high-rises could be marked for attack.

Check points were set up outside Hong Kong's Citibank Tower and Asian-Pacific Financial Tower, and the CN Tower in Toronto was shut following Tuesday's strike.