MUNICH, Germany - More than 12,000 peace demonstrators gathered in central Munich in the freezing cold on Saturday outside a conference where Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld criticized Germany's efforts to prevent a U.S. war against Iraq.
The rally, held under the slogan "No War in Iraq" was organized by trade unions, church groups and politicians. It was the latest in a series of anti-war rallies in Germany.
"Osama Bush Laden" read one poster carried through a steady snowstorm in the southern German city. "No Blood for Oil" read another. "No war, Mr. Rumsfeld" and "NATO War -- Stop the Capitalist Terror!" were written on other posters.
An overwhelming majority of Germans, who acquired a strong pacifist streak following the devastation of World War II, are firmly opposed to any war in Iraq, opinion polls have found.
Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's government has also angered President Bush for saying Germany, which holds a non-veto seat in the U.N. Security Council, would not under any circumstances vote to support a war.
"If we end up in this war, it will mean we've returned to wars of conquest," Rolf Boysen, a Munich actor, told the crowd. Susanne Breit Kessler, a local Protestant church leader, also criticized any rush to war: "We know all the arguments for war, but we want to know that all the political possibilities for a peaceful resolution are first being pursued."
Munich Mayor Christian Ude joined the rally and told German television: "The participants (of the conference) probably won't let themselves be affected by this rally, but the large numbers here make me confident it may be possible to change the opinions of people around the world, especially in America."