Huge Worldwide Protests Demand Iraq Troop Pullout
Saturday, March 20, 2004 7:18 p.m. ET
By Grant McCool
NEW YORK (Reuters) - More than a million antiwar protesters poured into the streets of cities around the globe on Saturday's anniversary of the invasion of Iraq to demand the withdrawal of U.S.-led troops.
From Sydney to Tokyo, from Santiago, Chile, to Madrid, London, New York and San Francisco, demonstrators condemned U.S. policy in Iraq and said they did not believe Iraqis are better off or the world safer because of the war.
Journalists estimated that at least a million people streamed through Rome, in probably the biggest single protest.
In London, two anti-war protesters evaded security to climb the landmark Big Ben clock tower at the Houses of Parliament, unfurling a banner reading "Time for Truth."
About 25,000 demonstrators gathered in central London, many carrying "Wanted" posters bearing images of President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair, his main war ally.
In most places, the demonstrators numbered in the tens of thousands, compared with hundreds of thousands who marched in big cities on Feb. 15, 2003, to try and prevent the conflict.
The peaceful protests began in Asia and moved to Europe and the Americas in what organizers billed "a global day of action."
In New York, scene of the Sept. 11, 2001, hijacked plane strikes by Islamic militants, tens of thousands created a sea of signs in midtown Manhattan, many of them criticizing Bush, who is running for re-election in November.
Among the signs spotted in the crowd were, "Money For Jobs and Education not for War and Occupation" and "Bush Lies" and "End Occupation of Iraq."
San Francisco Protest
In San Francisco, a diverse group of protestors gathered for a raucous rally in front of city hall, where dumping Bush in November was also the central theme.
"Are we ready to drop Bush?" local politico Tom Ammiano asked the crowd. "Are we ready to impeach Bush?" The crowd responded with an enthusiastic "yes" to both queries.
Actor Woody Harrelson, said the rally "is about uniting everyone. ... We want peace."
In Crawford, Texas, about 900 anti-war activists gathered at a park near President Bush's ranch. The T-shirt of choice read: "Crawford, Texas, Bring your village idiot home."
Anti-war activists gathered in Fayetteville, North Carolina, home of Fort Bragg, one of the biggest U.S. military basis. Soldiers, veterans and local residents staged two counter-demonstrations, but there were military veterans and families among the anti-war groups.
"I hate George Bush and everything he stands for and this war of vanity," said Don Marshburn, 72, a disabled Navy veteran from Newton Grove North Carolina. "I'm sick of bombs. It didn't do anything over there and it didn't do anything over here."
About 2,000 protested at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and several hundred in Chicago.
New York's crowd was the largest in the United States on the day, with organizers estimating up to 100,000 protesters. Police did not give an official estimate.
"Hey Hey, Ho Ho, George Bush has got to go," marchers chanted at the rally organized by the United For Peace and Justice coalition of left-leaning groups.
"The thing they all object to is Bush," said demonstrator, Reeves Hamilton, 30. "It doesn't make sense to bomb countries that have nothing to do with Sept. 11."
Bush On The Defensive
He said he supported troops going into Afghanistan to fight al Qaeda militants responsible for the attacks, but not the invasion of Iraq, which Bush ordered to rid the country of its purported weapons of mass destruction.
At a campaign rally in Florida, Bush touted Iraq as an "essential victory" in Washington's war on terror and hit back at criticism of his decision to invade without more international support.
"I'm all for united action, and so are our 34 coalition partners in Iraq right now," he said. "Yet America must never outsource America's national security decisions to the leaders of other countries."
A year after the start of the war, Saddam Hussein has been overthrown and captured, but no stockpiles of unconventional weapons have been found.
Concern over the war has been most evident in Spain, where thousands demonstrated a week after voting out the conservative government that sent troops to Iraq. Many Spaniards blamed Madrid's support for the war for the March 11 train bombs, blamed on Islamic militants, which killed 202 people.
Spanish Prime Minister-elect Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero has pledged to pull Spanish troops out of Iraq. He has called the war a "disaster" and a "fiasco."
Many in Iraq said their lives had improved since Saddam was toppled, but others said guerrilla attacks and lawlessness left them fearful.
(Reporting by Chris Sanders in New York, Andrew Cawthorne in Madrid, Peter Griffiths in London, Caren Bohan in Orlando, Elaine Lies in Tokyo, Courtney Brianne Mabeus in Fayetteville, North Carolina, Andrew Morse in San Francisco and Hilary Hylton in Crawford, Texas)
Copyright ? 2003 Reuters Limited.