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Millions worldwide march against war with Iraq

LONDON—By the millions, peace marchers in cities around the world united Saturday behind a single demand: No war with Iraq.

In Rome, between 1 million and 3 million people turned out, according to police officials and protest organizers; in London, between half-million and 1 million; in Berlin, a half-million.

On a global scale, the demonstrations were among the largest in decades. They began with the arrival of the day in New Zealand and spread time zone by time zone around the globe, culminating with 100,000 people flooding the streets near the United Nations in New York. Over a million marched in Barcelona, Spain, while over half a million took to the streets of Madrid.

The larger than expected marches, coming a day after the U.N. Security Council debate on whether to give weapons inspectors more time in Iraq, will make it harder for the Bush administration to win support for any war effort in Iraq.

"Peace! Peace! Peace! Let America listen to the rest of the world—and the rest of the world is saying: `Give the inspectors time,' " Nobel Peace Prize winner Bishop Desmond Tutu, of South Africa, told an inter-religious throng at a church near the United Nations.

In many places, the marches equaled or surpassed the scope of the anti-globalization demonstrations in recent years. In other places, they rivaled or topped the anti-nuclear protests of the early 1980s or the Vietnam War protests of the `60s and `70s.

"People are getting organized to a degree I have never seen in my lifetime," said Henry Schwarz, director of the Program on Peace and Justice, located at Georgetown University. "It does seem to have far-reaching impact."

In London, a seemingly endless throng of flag-waving marchers flowed down the wide avenues of Piccadilly. The march took five hours before the end of it finally caught up with the front of it at the speaker's stage on the muddy grounds of Hyde Park.

Shaggy-haired left-wing protest veterans teamed up with families who had never marched before. Demonstrators wore diamond rings and nose rings, fur coats and jean jackets. Babies and children were plentiful.

Some demonstrators conceded their effort might do nothing to stop a war that they felt the United States—most closely allied with the United Kingdom—was intent on waging.

"I don't think it will make any difference, but it has to be done. It's one of those things one has to do," said John Wilkinson, a British cancer researcher wearing a tall mad hatter's hat with the word "NO" on the front.

In the march, one sign read:

"Bush is the unacceptable weapon of mass destruction."

Ken Livingstone, the city's mayor, attacked Bush as "a stooge for the oil interests" and said: "And we're asking to send our men and women to die for this creature?"

But marchers frequently took pains to point out they were angry with the Bush administration and not ordinary Americans.

"It's not Americans, it's your government," Santino Russomanna, 46, told an American reporter in Rome. "George Bush, he's a rich man who is worried about his own interests."

In Rome, as in London, demonstrators also attacked their own leaders for siding with Bush on the war.

The government of Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has promised to allow the U.S. to use its bases as staging areas for attacks on Iraq. He has had to tread carefully, though, in face of polls showing most Italians oppose military action, and the massive Rome turnout may give him further pause.

"This is clearly a war for oil; most Italians are against it; there is a gap between what the government is doing and what our people want," said Rita Salonico, as she and her husband pushed their two infants in a stroller bearing a sign, in English, reading: "Not in Our Name."

Berlin's large protest was aimed at the Bush administration, not the German government, since Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder has been firmly against an Iraq war.

Berlin had not seen a rally so large since Nov. 4, 1989, when half a million East Germans demonstrated against their government five days before the fall of The Wall.

Theodor Seidel, a retired Berlin judge, found himself marching in the first demonstration of his 71 years. He carried a sign that read "Bush to Nuremberg," the site of the Nazi war crimes trials.

"I am actually a close ally of America, I have always been," he said. "But I can't back this march toward war that would sacrifice tens of thousands of people."

In France, which with Germany has led Western European efforts to quash a war, there were no rallies Saturday to compare with those in London, Rome and Berlin.

But officials said that as many as 300,000 Frenchmen marched in local events across the country.

Crowds numbered in the thousands marched in Oslo, Brussels, Stockholm, Copenhagen, Amsterdam, Vienna, Athens, Capetown and Johannesburg, Moscow, Kiev, Seoul, Sofia and Canberra, the Australian capital.

Police in Athens, Greece, fired tear gas at helmeted protestors, but the marches were mostly peaceful.

In New York, protestors' efforts to march directly in front of the United Nations were thwarted by city officials, who denied them a permit for security reasons. But their rally became a de facto march when the sheer numbers overwhelmed police on many streets leading to the rally site, at 51st Street and First Avenue.

Two hours after the rally was due to begin, First Avenue was filled at least to 65th Street, and there was still no end in sight to the incoming column. One police officer on Second Avenue said the marchers had been passing that spot, completely filling the street, for three hours.

On the stage, speakers including actor Harry Belafonte, singer Pete Seger and Democratic presidential hopeful Al Sharpton exhorted the crowd.

Many in the crowd were veterans of many other marches. Mary Fiore, 78, who lives on Manhattan's Upper West Side, held a small sign that said "Ex-WAC Says No War With Iraq."

"I'm not for peace at any price," Fiore said, which is why her sign emphasized her service in World War II. "But I believe in diplomacy. I think we can talk."

From Philadelphia to Chicago to Seattle, similar but smaller demonstrations echoed this theme.


(Knight Ridder correspondents Daniel Rubin in Berlin, Ken Dilanian in Rome, Larry Fish in New York, and Tom Infield in Washington contributed to this report.)


(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

PHOTOS (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): protests