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1 Million March For Peace In London, Berlin

on historic February 2003 demonstrations
(IPS) BERLIN -- Religion, nationality and age were no barriers. Millions of people around the world joined a global protest Saturday against the threatened U.S.-led war against Iraq.

Europe witnessed perhaps the largest ever demonstrations in decades: millions took to the streets in Rome and London -- united in opposition to their respective governments' support for President George W. Bush's insistence on deploying military force to disarm Iraq and oust Saddam Hussein.

Several thousand young and old, men and women marched in Amsterdam, Brussels, Copenhagen, Oslo, Stockholm, Moscow, Kiev, Mostar, Sofia, Athens, Cairo, Baghdad and Damascus pleading for "no war against Iraq".

Addressing one million peace marchers, the largest number that Berlin has seen in its post-war history, eminent German theologian Friedrich Schorlemmer said "preventive war" plans must be neutralized by "preventive peace" strategies.

The organizers, comprising church groups, labor leaders and artists, had expected no more than 100,000 people to join the protest march in Berlin. But the numbers swelled, underlining the support for the red-green coalition government's unequivocal 'no' to U.S. plans, said Kathrin Vogler, a spokeswoman of the organizers.

Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, who has shocked Washington and surprised the political elite in Germany with his strident opposition to the U.S. policy on Iraq, had asked his cabinet ministers not to participate in the protest march.

Nevertheless, Economic Cooperation Minister Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul, Environment Minister Juergen Trittin and Agriculture Minister Renate Kuenast took to the streets, though not as cabinet ministers but as members of parliament.

In Britain, close to a million voices were raised against war outside Prime Minister Tony Blair's door at 10 Downing Street in the biggest demonstration the country has seen.

It was no coincidence that the London protesters chose to go down Whitehall past the Prime Minister's house. And it was no surprise that this was where the protesters were loudest.

The police say there were three-quarters of a million who joined the rally, the organizers say there were close to two million, considering the number who came directly to Hyde Park.

Giant screens were installed at Hyde Park by the Daily Mirror newspaper for the speakers to be seen. They included former Labor Party leader Michael Foot and former Labor stalwart Tony Benn, leader of the Liberal Democrats Charles Kennedy, Mayor Ken Livingstone, writer Tariq Ali and Rev. Jesse Jackson from the U.S.

But it was a day when numbers spoke louder than leaders, when ordinary people from across Britain made their voice heard just by their presence.

"Drop Blair, not Bombs", a group of schoolgirls shouted as they walked past Blair's office. Teenagers were out in strength at the rally. So were handicapped people on wheelchairs, the elderly, and people of all sorts of backgrounds who have never joined a rally before.

Hundreds of unionists marched under their banners. But more than these, the message came loudest from people marching under their own placards. The bulk of the demonstrators belonged to no union or group. That spontaneity swelled the demonstration beyond expectations, and became a message that Prime Minister Tony Blair will find hard to ignore.

Blair held firm to his views at a Labor Party spring conference in Glasgow in Scotland. He acknowledged that the demonstrations showed an "understandable hatred of war." But he said war was sometimes a moral necessity.

Blair said that if there were half a million people at the march, that was still less than the number of people whose deaths Saddam Hussein was responsible for. And if there were a million that would still be less than the number "who died in wars he started."

But Blair's defense of his position was also acknowledgement of the extent to which he had to take the anti-war rally into account. An estimated 60,000 demonstrated at the conference centre after Blair had left - and this was the biggest demonstration Glasgow has seen.

It was a day when French President Jacques Chirac and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder seemed the leaders of their people, while Blair seemed the odd leader out.

A large demonstration in Paris was indicative of the strong support President Jacques Chirac enjoys in his opposition to any immediate war. More than 80 percent of French people oppose war, according to opinion polls.

The protest in Paris became an occasion also for strong support to the Palestinian cause. Many of the protesters who marched through central Paris carried Palestinian flags.

The protests in Rome were among the largest -- and also the most colorful as demonstrators took to the streets waving rainbow-colored flags.

More than a million people came out to protest in Rome. Organizers claim the figure was far higher. Almost all of Italy's leftist parties, unions, pacifist groups and environmental organizations joined the protest, which was given an edge by the Italian government's strong support to the U.S.

Anti-war rallies and protests were also held in Florence, Turin, Milan, Naples and Palermo in Sicily.

Police say about 60,000 joined a demonstration in Oslo, Norway, 50,000 in Brussels, and about 35,000 in Stockholm. About 25,000 demonstrated in Copenhagen, about 10,000 in Amsterdam, and 3,000 in Vienna.

In Brussels, about 20,000 people came out to protest. The demonstrators included medical students dressed in white, shouting "Make Health, Not War."

Several rallies were held in Greece. About 20,000 people gathered at the Syntagma Square in central Athens. Scattered scuffles were reported between the police and anarchist groups.

The call for anti-war protests drew only a modest response across Russia and former Soviet states. A majority of the population presumably view the looming war on Iraq with resignation.

Nearly two thirds of the Russians believe that the United States will attack Iraq anyway. An opinion poll by the Public Opinion Foundation (FOM) ascertained early February that 61 per cent of Russians thought their country should remain neutral if military operations began against Iraq.

Just over half said they believed that the Washington was motivated by a desire to control Iraqi oil or to show "who's the boss in the world". Only 12 per cent believed U.S. assertions that Washington was concerned about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction and its alleged links to international terrorism.

As chance would have it, Saturday marked 14th anniversary of Russia's final withdrawal from Afghanistan. Official memorial services and ceremonies were held in Moscow, St. Petersburg and some other urban centers. However, although the coincidence sounded symbolic, commemoration of withdrawal from Afghan did not encourage anti-war protests.

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Albion Monitor February 18, 2003 (

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