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Osama a boost for Bush?

Channel News Asia | November 2 2004

When the United States presidential election campaign was just heating up some months ago, there were suggestions that the Republican party had an ace up its sleeve.

The story, perhaps a blogger's fantasy, was that Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf would deliver Osama bin Laden, said to be hiding in the treacherous terrain near the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, at the right time for President George W Bush to seize the upper hand in the race for the White House.
Well, that dream turn of events has not happened for the Republicans and the fugitive terrorist leader remains at large.

In fact, in his latest videotaped appearance, which was broadcast in the United States on Saturday, Osama took it upon himself to lecture Americans on “how to avoid another Manhattan”, referring to the 911 attacks on the US.

Osama's “October surprise”, as the BBC called the videotape, was designed for maximum impact on the election.

Now there are rumours of a new “conspiracy”, with the tape materialising just three days before the Nov 2 polls.

Some experts feel that the tape, although not highly complimentary of the incumbent, will work in Mr Bush's favour.

Mr Khaled Al Maeena, editor of the Saudi Arabian daily, Arab News, who said he still played squash and billiards with Osama’s brothers in Riyadh, does not believe there is a Republican conspiracy behind the videotape.

But he did feel the tape would help

Mr Bush more than Mr Kerry, a sentiment shared by Dr Peter Shearman of the
University of Melbourne.

Said Dr Shearman: “The incumbent president has been seen as the toughest on terrorism and this tape will work to the advantage of the Republican campaign.”

The Daily Telegraph said yesterday that Mr Bush's supporters were confident that the video, the first taped appearance by the Al Qaeda leader in 13 months, would be widely seen as an attempt to blackmail Americans.

“The instincts of the heartlands are on Bush's side,” the newspaper said.

“His way of overwhelming the president may very well prompt a sympathy wave for Bush,” added the French newspaper Liberation.

Dr Shearman said that in an election where Americans have the unflattering image of being partisan and biased, the tape would serve to reinforce what they already believed.

Still, some observers believe that the tape still leaves room for Mr Kerry to manoeuvre.

Said Mr Chris Ayres of the London Times: “With two words he could have swung it. But Osama bin Laden avoided giving George W Bush a guaranteed four more years in the White House. He did not say: Vote Kerry.” - TODAY

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