SEDGEFIELD, England (AP) – President Bush labeled Turkey, shaken by deadly suicide bombings, a new front in the war on terror Friday and offered U.S. help in hunting down the perpetrators.

Two bombings in Istanbul on Thursday and new rocket assaults in Baghdad on Friday overshadowed the president’s tour of Prime Minister Tony Blair’s home turf in rural northeast England.

“Iraq’s a front, Turkey’s a front – anywhere where the terrorists think they can strike,” Bush told reporters, standing with Blair outside a community college on the last day of Bush’s state visit to Britain, America’s chief ally in the war in Iraq.

Bush and Blair had tea at the prime minister’s red brick, four-bedroom home, followed by a hearty pub lunch of fish and chips, as they toured the region that Blair has represented in Parliament for two decades.

But controversy over the Iraq war and its aftermath followed the two leaders during a day filled with leisurely activities. Several hundred protesters stood behind barriers on the village green alongside a 13th century church, waving anti-war placards and chanting “Bush Out” and “Bush Go Home.”

Blair defended his partnership with Bush and dismissed suggestions that Britain has gotten little in the bargain.

“People sometimes talk about this alliance between Britain and the United States of America as if it were some score card,” Blair said. “It isn’t. … We’re in this together. Britain didn’t go off and attack al-Qaida. We didn’t start a war against these people.”

Bush awoke in London to news that more than a dozen rockets slammed into Iraq’s oil ministry and two downtown hotels in Baghdad used by Westerners.

Flying here aboard Air Force One, he called Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to offer condolences for the Istanbul bombings of the British consulate and a London-based bank that killed at least 27 people and wounded more than 400.

Calling it a sad day, Bush said he offered the Turkish leader condolences and “told him that we will work with him to defeat terror and that the terrorists have decided to use Turkey as a front.”

Bush said the help would include intelligence sharing. Asked if it would also include the loan of FBI agents and other forms of assistance, Bush said, “You’ll see as time goes on.”

An aid package for Turkey has been discussed since at least September when the United States announced it had agreed to lend the country $8.5 billion to support its shaky economy. Treasury Secretary John Snow said the money was to support Turkey’s economic reform and mitigate the economic impact from the war.

Meanwhile, in an interview with Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, a London-based Arabic language newspaper, Bush was asked about his timetable for withdrawing troops from Iraq.

“I’m going to listen to the generals who say, Mr. President, we need more, we need less, we’ve got exactly the right number,” Bush said.

When Bush gave a similar response at a London news conference on Thursday, aides insisted he was not modifying the Pentagon’s announced plan to reduce troops to 105,000 by May from the current 131,600 – and that it remained most likely that troop levels would in fact be reduced by early next year.

Bush’s 31/2-day state visit to Britain, which included three nights at Buckingham Palace, was intended to showcase the U.S.-British alliance and the coalition victory in Iraq. But rising terror attacks in Iraq and other parts of the world and anti-war demonstrations in Britain tended to supplant that agenda.

As several hundred protesters demonstrated in Sedgefield, in the tiny nearby village of Trimdon Colliery, where the Bushes took tea at Blair’s constituency home, a lone protester held a sign reading “Gan yem Dubya” – local dialect for “Go home” and a reference to Bush’s middle initial “W.”

Others were more welcoming. Blair’s next door neighbors, Gary and Angela Forshaw, were delighted to have their picture taken with the president. “The wife’s legs have gone, she was wobbling all over the place but I could not press the button on my camera quick enough,” said Gary Forshaw.

The invitation to tranquil northeast England was Blair’s way of repaying Bush for several visits to Camp David, the presidential retreat in Maryland, and to Bush’s ranch near Crawford, Texas.

In Sedgefield, a small town of 5,000 in an old coal-mining region, Bush and his wife, Laura, and Blair and his wife, Cherie, headed for the crowded Dun Cow Inn, a narrow pub on the main street where Bush was warmly greeted. Although Bush stopped drinking alcoholic beverages about 15 years ago, he playfully reached across the bar to grab a tap handle. He washed down his lunch with a nonalcoholic lager.

Asked by a reporter if he considered Turkey a new front in the war on terror, Bush replied: “It sure is. Two major explosions,” an apparent reference to both Thursday’s attacks on British targets and suicide bombings of two synagogues in Istanbul five days earlier.

AP-ES-11-21-03 1556EST

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