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February 16, 2003

Antiwar Rallies Raise a Chorus Across Europe


LONDON, Feb. 15 From the parks of London to the piazzas of Rome and the avenues of Berlin, hundreds of thousands of Europeans marched today to register opposition to war in Iraq in what was termed the Continent's biggest coordinated demonstration in a generation's memory.

With similar protests taking place in scores of cities around the world including New York, demonstrators streamed along London's Piccadilly past the statue of Eros, and along Whitehall close to 10 Downing Street, the residence of Prime Minister Tony Blair, Washington's most committed ally in the effort to force President Saddam Hussein of Iraq to disarm.

"This is a question of voting by foot," said Christian Taylor, 31, an ecologist who had traveled 150 miles from Devon, in southwest England, to march in London. "It sends a very powerful signal internationally." For many, the target of that message was Mr. Blair himself.

"I believe that we should have peace rather than war," said Pamela Keats, 55, a fashion expert from London. "Tony Blair lives in a democracy and he's lucky to live in a democracy and he should listen to the people."

"Peace not war," demonstrators chanted, raising banners proclaiming: "Not in my name."

An early police estimate of the size of the London march was 300,000. Organizers said that up to 750,000 people, many of them traveling across country by bus to reach London, took part in the march. The biggest previous protest march recorded in Britain came last fall, when some 400,000 people marched in support of rural Britons.

The demonstrations came just one day after one of the chief United Nations weapons inspectors, Hans Blix, told the Security Council that Iraq's cooperation with his team had increased, deepening the aversion of such nations as France, Germany and Russia to the readiness of the United States and Britain to go to war.

The demonstrators want to force Mr. Blair to distance himself from the United States effort, a move that would strip Washington of its principal ally and undermine its claim to international support.

"The prime minister and the president have got to start listening," said Charles Kennedy, an opposition leader in the British Parliament.

Even as hundreds of thousands marched through his capital, waving banners and blowing whistles, however, Mr. Blair stood firm in his support for President Bush, telling a meeting of his Labor Party in Glasgow that Mr. Hussein "would not be making a single concession without the knowledge that forces are gathering against him."

As he spoke, some 25,000 demonstrators gathered in Glasgow to protest the war, roaring disapproval outside the hall where the Labor Party conference was held. Some Labor delegates joined the protest.

While Mr. Blair challenged the marchers in Glasgow, London and elsewhere to consider Mr. Hussein's bloodstained human rights record, marchers generally insisted, in the words of Seth Green, a 23-year-old American student who joined the London march, that "the antiwar movement does not have to support Saddam Hussein." Mr. Green, studying at Oxford University, said he joined the march because he wanted "to send the message that you can be pro-American and antiwar" a message that suffused protests in Berlin, Amsterdam and elsewhere.

As he spoke, the demonstrators poured into Hyde Park where speakers, including the Rev. Jesse Jackson, exhorted Mr. Blair and President Bush to bow to the protesters' demands for peace. In Berlin, protesters converged from the eastern and western parts of the city to meet at the Brandenburg Gate, once a symbol of the city's cold war division, to protest the potential war. The police said the number of protesters was around 200,000, twice as many as forecast. Organizers put the figure at 350,000.

Some German protesters carried placards proclaiming pride in "Old Europe" the term used dismissively by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld to pour scorn on French and German opposition to the war. "We are here to show our friendship for the United States and our opposition to the war," said Andreas Seide, a 36-year-old travel agent.

The demonstrations have coaxed forth a broad, informal coalition from Muslim activists to hard-left-wingers. Some in London carried banners saying: "Freedom for Palestine." The protesters included young children and veterans of the 1960's Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, older people in wheelchairs and babies in strollers. Some were marching for the first time.

Karie Rudferaaten, 44, from Woking, just outside London, said she had never marched before but "nothing has been as important as this. We have to try to do something. People feel that if we go into Iraq it's World War III."

Ken Livingstone, the mayor of London, said, "This is all Britain standing together, regardless of age, race or sex."

Apart from politicians, rock stars and other celebrities, writers and intellectuals have come out in support of the march, challenging Mr. Blair to recognize that he faces a groundswell of popular discontent.

Across Europe, many said they believed that their marching had a real chance of shaping history.

"When there are this many people, there's a special feeling," said Valerio Conti, 40, a factory worker from Tuscany, as a protest in Rome wound its way from the Circus Maximus and across the cobbles of the Piazza Venezia. "It's as if we really have the ability to change the world."

In Italy, so many people turned up for the march on a crisp, bright morning that the demonstration started three hours early to make room for the numbers of people pouring into Rome by bus from across the land. Organizers said at least three million people had joined the protest, but the police disputed that.

Even in Baghdad, several thousand Iraqis staged an orchestrated demonstration, chanting, "We love Saddam Hussein." Protests were also reported from as far afield as Kashmir and New Zealand, Hong Kong, Moscow and Tokyo. In Russia, one of the leaders of the antiwar coalition in the United Nations, about 700 demonstrators turned out opposite the American Embassy on a bitter day for a Communist-led protest against United States policy in general, and against Mr. Bush in particular.

Across Europe, protesters insisted that the real cause of the war was a grab for Iraq's oil. In Amsterdam, Dutch demonstrators carried signs that read "How Many Lives per Gallon?"

"Most are not anti-American they are against the Bush government and its foreign policy," said Ruth Oldenziel in Amsterdam. Some 200 Americans marched side by side in the Amsterdam protest with exiled Iraqis. The Dutch police estimated the number of protesters at 70,000.

In Ireland, the protest was seen as one of the biggest, reflecting worries about refueling facilities given to United States military planes at the Shannon airfield. But Tom Burke, a retired teacher marching with up to 20,000 others in Dublin, said he had been inspired to protest by the likely consequences of war. "If they bomb Iraq this time, terrorism is going to go on for 1,000 years," he said.

In Turkey, where the government is wrestling with a request to allow American troops to use the country as a base against Iraq, thousands called on their leaders to stay out of the conflict.

In Istanbul, a crowd of several thousand gathered in the city's Kadikoy Iskelesi neighborhood to denounce the military preparations and America's leading role. While young men shouted into bullhorns, others held aloft large banners that offered one-line appraisals of the looming war. "We won't be anyone's soldiers," read one.

"We are here to protest the sorrow inflicted on the world's nations by the U.S.A.," Huseyin Kahraman, a 32-year-old computer specialist, said in a typical comment. "We are here today to show and prove that we can prevent war."

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