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London's mayor gets high marks for response to bombings

LONDON—He's known as Red Ken and a member of the Looney Left, but much like former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani after the Sept. 11 attacks, London's mayor Ken Livingstone, 60, looks to be rising to the occasion in the days after the London Underground bombings.

"Every great city is a target," he said Friday, later adding, "That's what the bombers seek to destroy. ... But they will fail."

He hit the mark even harder immediately after the bombings, while he was still in Singapore, accepting London's award of the 2012 Olympics.

Directly addressing the terrorists, he said: "In the days that follow, look at our airports, look at our seaports and look at our railway stations and, even after your cowardly attack, you will see that people from the rest of Britain, people from around the world will arrive in London to become Londoners and to fulfill their dreams and achieve their potential ... Whatever you do, however many you kill, you will fail."

Keith Burnet, spokesman for the London research center Chatham House, said Livingstone had been hitting all the right notes since the bombing.

"He's always been eloquent, but in these past few days, he's been at his best," he said. "He speaks for all Londoners, and he speaks for us very well. It's a statesmanlike performance."

He hasn't always been seen that way. He's famously called his party's Chancellor of the Exchequer—equivalent to America's treasury secretary—a "financial illiterate," declared war on Trafalgar Square's pigeons, and once called George W. Bush "the most corrupt American president since Harding."

Still, since his first election in 1971, he's built a reputation of standing up for what he believes in. While criticizing traffic congestion in London, he also takes the underground to work.

During a news conference with Sir Ian Blair, London's metropolitan police commissioner, Livingstone was tough and compassionate.

He's been criticized in the past for occasionally speaking without concern for the political consequences. Not so on Friday. He deftly avoided criticizing his country's involvement in the Iraq war—which he deeply opposes—while keeping the focus and blame squarely on whoever carried out the four bombings Thursday morning that have killed at least 49, and left about 700 others injured.

Livingstone made it clear that he didn't believe the Iraq war had anything to do with the murder of innocent commuters. Instead, he said the terrorists hate everything about Western society, from personal freedoms to integration and intermarriage to tolerance.

At the same time, he noted that calling these terrorists "Islamic terrorists" was equally wrong.

"There is no way anyone can say an ideology or faith underscores these acts," he said. "They are simply criminal acts of murder."

Last week was a big one, both for him and his city.

"These have been seven days no one in this city will ever forget," he said. "On Saturday, a quarter-million turned out to do their bit to ease African suffering," referring to the Live 8 rock concert on July 2. "On Wednesday, we celebrated together as we were awarded the 2012 Olympics. And then the tragedy on Thursday."

Friday, he said that his city would rise above the tragedy.

"London is a city where you can live the way you wish, as long as you don't harm anyone else," he said.

He said that unity in a city where 300 languages are spoken is what convinced the International Olympics Committee on Wednesday to grant London the 2012 Olympic games.

He said the best of the city was reflected in the response of the emergency workers to the tragedy last week, and in how the city's residents were pulling together.

And, he added, that represents the ultimate failure of the terrorists.

"I, myself, will use the underground to go to work Monday, as usual," he said. "I would advise every other Londoner to do the same."

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(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

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