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Antiwar groups to protest combat with vigils, civil disobedience

WASHINGTON—A large antiwar coalition on Wednesday announced plans for a global vigil the night after combat begins, a new Internet petition drive and a campaign to communicate support to American troops.

More militant groups staged acts of civil disobedience in several cities Wednesday, and they promised efforts to block federal buildings and military bases and to disrupt traffic in at least 50 cities when the U.S. invasion of Iraq starts.

The group Win Without War, which includes 39 organizations such as the NAACP and the National Council of Churches, plans a "citizen's declaration" drive beginning Friday, to attract signatures worldwide on a pledge to oppose President Bush's doctrine of pre-emptive military strikes.

Tom Andrews, the former Democratic Maine congressman who directs the coalition, said activists weren't discouraged by the seeming inevitability of war: "We are a powerful force, and we will continue to tap, cultivate and mobilize people to defeat this first-strike doctrine."

"We're committed to burying this doctrine in Iraq," he added.

The day that war begins, the coalition plans candlelight vigils around the world at 7 p.m. local time, similar to the 6,000-plus vigils on Sunday.

The coalition also intends to address the question of "how to support the warrior at the same time you oppose the war," said Bob Edgar, a former Democratic Pennsylvania congressman and general secretary of the National Council of Churches.

Edgar and Andrews are urging war opponents to contact service people through Operation Dear Abby, an online message service, and to oppose the cuts in veterans' benefits in Bush's proposed budget.

"Many injustices were done to Vietnam veterans, and our groups are not going to make that mistake," said Edgar, who served on the House Veterans' Affairs Committee. He was referring to peace activists in the 1970s who offended the moderates and much of the nation on occasions when they allowed their antiwar efforts to become anti-GI.

Andrews said antiwar activists also should pressure the U.S. government to make sure there would be no "humanitarian catastrophe" in Iraq once the war ends.

While Win Without War doesn't plan any civil disobedience, Andrews said he supported "allied organizations that plan nonviolent acts."

Many activists who plan dramatic protests, including arrests, geared up for the start of war with a scattering of events Wednesday.

In Lafayette Park across from the White House, about 300 demonstrators gathered during the afternoon. Some chanted loudly, while others in the Roman Catholic peace group Pax Christi prayed quietly in a circle.

By late afternoon, 27 protesters had been arrested after scaling a temporary fence that separated Pennsylvania Avenue from the park.

Protests attracted about 300 people in downtown New York, and several demonstrators were arrested in Detroit and Boston.

Some activists launched a campaign to impeach Bush for "subverting the Constitution with war crimes." Former Attorney General Ramsey Clark, who has defended radical activists, drafted "articles of impeachment" announced in a full-page ad in The New York Times.


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