Demonstrators across world rally against Iraq war

Sunday, March 19, 2006

SYDNEY, Australia -- Anti-war protesters marched in Australia, Asia, Turkey and Europe on Saturday in demonstrations that marked the third anniversary of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq with a demand that coalition troops pull out.

Around 500 protesters marched through central Sydney, chanting "End the war now" and "Troops out of Iraq." Many campaigners waved placards branding President Bush the "World's No. 1 Terrorist" or expressing concerns that Iran could be the next country to face invasion.

"Iraq is a quagmire and has been a humanitarian disaster for the Iraqis," said Jean Parker, a member of the Australian branch of the Stop the War Coalition, which organized the march. "There is no way forward without ending the occupation."

Opposition to the war is still evident in Australia, which has some 1,300 troops in and around Iraq. Visiting Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was heckled by campaigners in Sydney this week, who said she had "blood on her hands."

But Saturday's protest was small compared to the mass demonstrations that swept across the country in the buildup to the invasion -- the largest Australia had seen since joining U.S. forces in the Vietnam War.

The turnout also was lower than protesters had hoped in Britain, whose government has been the United States' strongest supporter in the war.

Authorities shut down streets in the heart of London's shopping and theater district for the demonstration, which organizers had predicted would attract up to 100,000 people, but police estimated the crowd was about 15,000 people.

Some protesters carried posters calling Bush a terrorist and other placards pictured Prime Minister Tony Blair, saying "Blair must go!" Britain has about 8,000 soldiers in Iraq but plans to pull out 800 by May.

"We are against this war, both for religious reasons and on a humanitarian basis, too. No one deserves to be bombarded," said one march, student Imran Saghir, 25.

In Tokyo, about 2,000 people rallied in a downtown park, carrying signs saying "Stop the Occupation" as they listened to a series of anti-war speeches.

"The war is illegal under international law," said Takeshiko Tsukushi, a member of World Peace Now, which helped plan the rally. "We want the immediate withdrawal of the Self Defense Forces and from Iraq along with all foreign troops."

Japanese Prime Minister Junchiro Koizumi is a staunch supporter of the U.S.-led coalition in Japan and dispatched 600 soldiers to the southern city of Samawah in 2004 to purify water and carry out other humanitarian tasks. The Cabinet approved an extension of that mission in December, authorizing the troops to stay in Iraq through the end of the year.

But public opinion polls show the majority of Japanese oppose the mission, which has been criticized as a violation of the country's pacifist constitution. Many say the deployment has made Japan a target for terrorism.

In Turkey, thousands gathered in Istanbul for protests and other demonstrations were planned in the cities of Izmir, Trabzon and the capital, Ankara.

Opposition to the war is nearly universal in Turkey and cuts across all political stripes.

"Murderer USA," read a sign unfurled by a communist in Taksim Square in Istanbul.

"USA, go home!" said red and black signs carried by hundreds of the some 5,000 protesters gathered in Kadikoy on the city's Asian coast.

Turkey is Iraq's northern neighbor and the only Muslim-majority member of the NATO military alliance. Historically close relations with the U.S. were severely strained after the Turkish parliament refused to allow U.S. troops to launch operations into Iraq from Turkish territory.

U.S. military planners said the move complicated operations by shutting down the U.S. option of opening a northern front in the 2003 invasion.

Since the war, support for the United States has plummeted in Turkey.

In Sweden, about 1,000 demonstrators gathered for a rally in Stockholm before a march to the U.S. Embassy. Some protesters carried banners reading "No to U.S. warmongering" and "USA out of Iraq," while others held up a U.S. flag with the white stars replaced by dollar signs.

"More and more people today are realizing that the Iraq war is becoming a new Vietnam," said Skold Peter Matthis, one of the organizers of the protest. "But today, the USA is even more dangerous than it was then, because they have a monopoly on being a superpower."

Anti-war demonstrations were also planned in Spain, Austria, Germany, Greece and Denmark.

-- AP

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