Thousands of protesters turned out nationwide Saturday to mark the first anniversary of the start of the U.S.-led war on Iraq and call for the removal of American troops from the Middle East country.
“It is time to bring our children home and declare this war was unnecessary,” said the Rev. Herbert Daughtry, a New York activist addressing a crowd of up to 30,000 at the Manhattan rally.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg estimated the crowd at about 30,000, but organizers said later that number had grown to more than 100,000.
New York police in riot gear walked calmly past barricades marking off the demonstration area on Madison Avenue as speakers mounted a stage to address the crowd on a sunny afternoon.
The event was peaceful, unlike a demonstration one year earlier that drew 100,000 people and produced several clashes between demonstrators and police.
Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly stopped by the rally, but didn’t speak to demonstrators or participate.
In Cincinnati, several hundred people gathered in a downtown park to call for a U.S. troop withdrawal. Claire Mugavin, clad in a biohazard suit, pretended to look for weapons of mass destruction beneath benches and garbage cans.
“We figure they’re not in Iraq,” said the 24-year-old Cincinnati resident. “So we figured we’d come look for them in Fountain Square.”
The New York demonstrators filled a 10-block stretch of Madison Avenue as they walked through the city.
About 2,000 rallied in Fayetteville, North Carolina, near Fort Bragg, one of the largest U.S. military bases. Several hundred counter-demonstrators stood along the march route.
“The appearance that we get in the media focuses on one or two people killed, when we are opening schools and people are giving us flowers,” said Capt. Todd McDonald, 35, who said he broke both his legs in a parachute accident in Iraq.
An anti-war protester, Kristen Munro-Leighton, 25, said, “Bush misled the country and the world about the weapons of mass destruction. I think he played up on the fears of 9/11 by linking up 9/11 and Iraq.”
In Iraq, many said their lives had improved since Saddam was toppled, but others said guerrilla attacks and lawlessness left them fearful. Guerrillas killed a U.S. Marine near the town of Fallujah, west of Baghdad, on Saturday, raising to 393 the number of U.S. troops in Iraq in the past year.
Passions high in London
Tens of thousands marched through central London, some of them waving placards that called President Bush the “World’s No. 1 Terrorist.” Anti-war demonstrators held a huge rally in Rome, where organizers said up to 2 million people turned out and police estimated 250,000.
“I thought the war was illegal, and we need to all show our feelings about that,” said Neil Andrew, 57, a builder demonstrating in London. “They should hand control over to the United Nations, but I don’t think that will happen.”
London’s Metropolitan Police estimated that some 25,000 people took part in the rally between Hyde Park and Trafalgar Square in the center of the British capital. Organizers put the figure at 100,000.
Early Saturday morning, two anti-war demonstrators wearing climbing gear scaled the Big Ben clock tower at the Houses of Parliament and held up a small banner that read “Time for Truth” before coming down several hours later. Police said they would review security at Parliament following the incident.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair was the United States’ staunchest ally in the war. But many Britons opposed the invasion and questions about the conflict’s legality have dogged the government as coalition forces have failed to find Saddam Hussein’s alleged weapons of mass destruction.
At a campaign rally in Florida, Bush touted Iraq as an “essential victory” in the war on terror he declared after the Sept. 11 attacks, 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.”
Protests across Europe
Some 150,000 people demonstrated in Barcelona, Spain, city hall officials reported.
France, Germany, Greece, the Netherlands and other European countries also saw protests, while earlier demonstrations took place in Japan, Australia and India. In the Philippines, protesters clashed with riot police, although no injuries were reported.
In Italy, anti-war activists jammed the streets of central Rome, many of them decked out in rainbow-colored peace flags and chanting “assassins.”
Protesters demanded that Italy withdraw its 2,600 troops from Iraq. The center-right government of Premier Silvio Berlusconi was a strong supporter of the war, even though most Italians opposed it.
Paolo Quadrardi, 42, a mechanic, said the Madrid train bombings that killed 202 people March 11 showed that “war doesn’t do anything but increase terrorism.”
Many Spaniards have accused Spain’s conservative government of provoking the attacks by supporting the Iraq war. The ruling Popular Party suffered a surprising loss to the Socialists in general elections last weekend.
The Socialists on Saturday repeated their intention to withdraw Spain’s 1,300 troops from Iraq unless the United Nations takes charge in the Mideast nation.
Spanish Prime Minister-elect Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero has called the war a “disaster” and a “fiasco.”
Thousands of protesters marched in an evening rally in Madrid that featured a large banner with a black sash, Spain’s symbol of mourning for the rail bombings.
“End the occupation. Bring the troops home,” it said.
No crowd estimate was immediately available for Madrid. But the numbers paled in comparison to the millions that packed streets all over Spain after the attack.
While turnout was high in some nations, the protests were all far smaller than the enormous demonstrations held around the world shortly before the war began last year.
Some Americans joined about 2,500 protesters in Paris, where demonstrators blared a rendition of the John Lennon song “Give Peace a Chance” through loudspeakers.
In Berlin, about 1,600 people attended a rally while in western Germany some 2,000 activists met outside a U.S. military base.
More than 10,000 people marched to the U.S. Embassy in Athens, Greece, while some 3,000 took to the streets of Amsterdam.
Anti-American feelings ran high in Egypt, where demonstrators in Cairo — vastly outnumbered by riot police — burned U.S. flags. Hundreds of people gathered in other Middle Eastern capitals to denounce the war.
Rallies also took place in Belgium, Norway, Switzerland, the Czech Republic, Sweden, Poland, Finland, Ukraine, Denmark, Jordan, Bahrain, India, Australia, South Korea, Thailand, Hong Kong, New Zealand and South Africa.
As many as 30,000 people turned out in Tokyo to protest Japan’s involvement in the war, organizers there said. The country has sent 1,000 personnel to Iraq, its largest foreign deployment since the Second World War.
In Turkey, one of Iraq’s neighbors, about 2,000 anti-American demonstrators protested in Ankara and Istanbul before dispersing peacefully amid tight security.
In San‘a, Yemen, where authorities had banned a demonstration, opposition parties and union members held a sit-in outside parliament and issued a statement condemning the government.
About 500 anti-war protesters who tried to push their way to the U.S. Embassy in the Philippine capital, Manila, briefly scuffled with riot police.