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Kuwait celebrates liberation anniversary with its Gulf War heroes

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February 26, 2001 


KUWAIT- (AP) - As allied war jets flew over and Gulf War heroes former U.S. President George Bush and former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher watched, Kuwaitis raised their flag and performed a traditional victory dance, marking the 10th anniversary of the end of the war that freed them from Iraqi occupation.

When soldiers took the flag from the crown prince, Sheik Saad Al Abdullah Al Sabah, and hoisted it on a pole at the seaside Flag Square, balloons and white pigeons were released, women ululated and school girls sang.

The ceremony kicked off two days of celebrations which will include a parade, poetry readings, and an operetta by school children. Kuwait had not held such galas before because about 600 of its citizens and nationals of other countries who lived here at the time of the 1990 Iraqi invasion are still missing. Kuwait accuses Baghdad of holding them, but the Iraq insists it has released all war prisoners.

Although the missing are still unaccounted for, the government decided to part with tradition this year because liberation day, Feb. 26, falls one day before the 40th anniversary of the country's independence from Britain in 1961.

"It's a glorious day," said Salem Abdullah, a 47-year-old civil servant. "But one thing is missing, our POWs."

When Bush visited Kuwait for the first time after the war in 1993, he was given a hero's welcome and showered with gifts and gratitude. But after the visit, five Iraqis and a Kuwaiti were sentenced to death for plotting to kill him with a car bomb during the trip. Baghdad denied it had anything to do with the plan, and the men have not been hanged yet.

Security was tight Sunday as Bush watched men in long robes waved their swords and rifles as they performed the arda, the Gulf's traditional dance that depicts the "joy of victory."

Troupes from other Arab states in the Gulf danced their versions of the arda, on a the red-carpeted area between the open-air stage and the tents where the guests were seated.

"The presence of George Bush and his wife is very important for us," said Amani Sayed Hashem, one of the few hundred people invited to the ceremony.

Iraqi President "Saddam Hussein is still threatening," said the 23-year-old university student.

The United States believes Saddam remains a threat and is looking for ways to contain him without hurting ordinary Iraqis, Colin Powell, a Gulf War general now serving Bush's son as secretary of state, said during a Mideast tour that will bring him to Kuwait late Sunday.

Baghdad has heightened its campaign against Kuwait in recent months with Odai Hussein, the son of the Iraqi President telling Parliament Iraq's map should be altered to include Kuwait.

Iraq's state-run media has also threatened to punish Kuwait and Saudi Arabia for allowing U.S. and British planes to patrol no-fly zones over northern and southern Iraq that were established after the war to protect Shiite and Kurdish rebels who rose against the government in Baghdad.

Small oil-rich Kuwait signed 10-year defense agreements with its Western allies after the war. It has renewed the pact with Washington till 2011.

"We have to be on alert always," Abdullah said. "And until Saddam is toppled, foreign protection remains necessary."

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