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Millions march against war: Around world

by Marilyn Bechtel Saturday, Feb. 22, 2003 at 4:20 PM People's Weekly World, 235 W. 23rd st., Ny, Ny 10011

An unprecedented wave of anti war demonstrations swept the globe on Feb. 15, as an estimated 11 million demonstrators poured into the streets, determined to block the Bush administration’s drive to war against Iraq. As in the U.S., initiators and participants came from a very broad array of unions, political parties, religious organizations, youth and women’s organizations, left and progressive organizations including communist and workers parties.

An unprecedented wave of anti war demonstrations swept the globe on Feb. 15, as an estimated 11 million demonstrators poured into the streets, determined to block the Bush administration’s drive to war against Iraq. As in the U.S., initiators and participants came from a very broad array of unions, political parties, religious organizations, youth and women’s organizations, left and progressive organizations including communist and workers parties.

Large numbers of first-time demonstrators marched because of grave concerns over the immorality of a war against Iraq and its potentially disastrous consequences abroad and at home.

While organizers put the total of cities worldwide at over 600, this surely overlooks hundreds more demonstrations on every continent. In Greece, Britain, India and South Africa, for example, organizers last week projected actions in dozens of communities, while most commercial media did not take note of anti-war actions in such places as Bangladesh, Vietnam and East Timor.

The very large turnouts in Britain, Italy and Spain – whose governments staunchly support the Bush administration’s stance – sounded a warning that continued defiance of public opinion could have far-reaching political consequences. And demonstrations in the capitals of the Eastern European former socialist countries of “New Europe,” whose right-wing governments have signed onto NATO and support the Bush war drive, show that public opinion holds high the banner of peace there, too.

Early results of the anti-war surge could be seen in the European Union’s statement issued Monday, which emphasized that “War is not inevitable,” and “Force should only be used as a last resort.” The statement of 22 Arab foreign ministers on Monday urged all Arab states to “refrain from offering any kind of assistance or facilities for any military action that leads to the threat of Iraq’s security, safety and territorial integrity,” while introduction of the new U.S. and British UN resolution was slowed by a few days.

Following are a few highlights:

Britain: Two great streams of demonstrators converged to fill London’s Hyde Park with an estimated 2 million people. The country’s largest and broadest public demonstration ever, it brought together traditional peace organizations, a large trade union presence, many religious groups, left and progressive organizations, youth and students, women, community groups of all kinds, and individuals.

“I’m not political, not at all,” one marcher told the Observer. “I’ve never been on a march in my life and never had any intention. But something’s happened recently, to me and so many friends – we just know there is something going wrong in this country ... I simply don’t see how war can be the answer and I don’t know anyone who does. And, apart from anything else, as a Black woman in London, it feels dangerous to spread racial tension after all that’s been done.”

Italy: Rome claimed the day’s biggest turnout, with organizers saying 3 million participated. “Stop the war” read a huge banner on stage at the march’s conclusion on Piazza San Giovanni above a greatly enlarged version of Picasso’s “Guernica.” Air raid sirens sounded above the city streets in a reminder of the war fears agitating the country. Commentators said the large numbers of protesters were drawn by the desire to protest Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s support for Bush, and encouraged by the Vatican’s outspoken opposition to the war.

Spain: Some 3 million demonstrated in 55 cities and towns, with a million each participating in Madrid and Barcelona. A quarter million protested in Seville, 200,000 in Oviedo, 100,000 each in Las Palmas and Cadiz.

Israel & Palestine: Over 3,000 Jewish and Arab-Palestinian Israelis marched through Tel-Aviv’s Ibn Gavirol thoroughfare to a mass rally at Museum Plaza, across from the Defense Ministry. The action was called by peace movements including Ta’ayush Solidarity Organization, the Women’s Coalition for Peace, Gush Shalom Peace Bloc, the left parties Balad and Hadash, and others.

In an explicitly designated “twin protest,” thousands of Palestinians marched through the main street of the occupied Palestinian city of Ramallah. Solidarity greetings were broadcast between the two demonstrations. A joint Israeli-Palestinian declaration read at both actions denounced the war against Iraq, demanded an end to the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands, and called for a just peace in the Middle East.

Bangladesh: Protesters gathered in Dhaka heard Manzurul Ahsan Khan, president of the Communist Party of Bangladesh, express solidarity with all peace-loving people of the world, and warn that the Bush administration seeks to establish control over the world and especially its oil resources. CPB General Secretary Mujahidul Islam Selim said the government of Bangladesh is already planning to hand over domestic port, electricity and gas resources to U.S.-based transnational corporations.

After the rally, a large and colorful procession marched through the city streets.

Canada: Well over 200,000 Canadians defied below-freezing weather to proclaim a fervent peace message. In Montreal an estimated 150,000 marched through the streets, chanting, “No to war, yes to Peace,” in French and English, and carrying banners saying, ‘Stop Bush” and “A village in Texas has lost its idiot.” In Vancouver, 30,000 came out, while in Toronto over 10,000 protested.

At least 60 other communities demonstrated, though temperatures were below –20 C in some places.

Greece: Hundreds of thousands gathered at noon in Athens’ Sintagma Square before beginning a procession that regaled the U.S. Embassy with anti-war chants for a full four and one half hours.

Several thousand protesters unfurled a giant banner reading: “NATO, EU and U.S. equals War!” across the wall of the Acropolis, before joining the march to the embassy.

Another 40,000 rallied in Thessaloniki, while demonstrations took place in nearly every Greek city.

Germany: Half a million demonstrators joined together at the big victory column in the middle of Berlin’s big park, the Tiergarten. The program featured the head of Germany’s largest labor union, an outspoken Protestant pastor, and leading musicians and actors. Marchers ranged from religious denominations and unions through a spectrum of political parties, with most participants appearing to be ordinary, largely unorganized people who just wanted to say “No” to war. Some leaders in Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder’s government participated.

Brazil: Major anti-war events took place in Brasilia, Porto Alegre, Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo and at least 15 other cities. The largest, in Rio and Sao Paolo, drew up to 30,000 demonstrators each. Among them were union leaders, left and progressive parties, the MST landless peasant movement, and many officials, encouraged to participate by President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva himself.

Vietnam: On Feb. 18, in Hanoi, participants in a meeting passed a resolution declaring: “In recent days, together with a peace-loving people around the world, Vietnamese people of all walks of life have followed with deep concern the danger of war to be launched by the U.S. and British administrations against Iraq, thus seriously threatening peace and security in the region and the world at large.” The resolution called for “a political solution to the Iraqi issue” in accord with the UN charter and international law, and for ensuring a world of peace and development. The meeting was called by the Vietnam Fatherland Front, Peace Committee, Committee for Solidarity and Cooperation with Asian, African and Latin American People, and Vietnam-Iraq Friendship Society.

Argentina: In Buenos Aires, protesters braved an intense summer rainstorm to march on the U.S. Embassy. “The world is mobilizing against Bush and against war,” declared labor leader Victor de Genaro of the CTV, one of Argentina’s main trade unions. The march was organized by human rights groups, student associations, left parties and groups related to the World Social Forum that took place last month in Porto Alegre, Brazil.

Nobel Peace Laureate Adolfo Perez Esquivel said Bush is not aiming to neutralize terrorism, but instead aims to take over the world’s energy sources, and is encouraging intolerance and hate.

Hans Lebrecht and Victor Grossman contributed to this article.

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