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War opponents rally worldwide • Saturday February 15, 2003

BBC, Feb. 15, 2003

A series of protests around the world against a possible US-led war against Iraq has kicked off, with millions expected to take part.

Hundreds of rallies and marches are taking place in up to 60 countries this weekend.

The biggest are expected to be in Rome, New York, Berlin and London, where more than half a million protesters are expected at a rally culminating in Hyde Park.

Some of the first protests on Saturday were seen in New Zealand, as environmental pressure group Greenpeace flew a plane over Auckland harbour trailing a banner reading “No War, Peace Now”.

About 5,000 marched through Auckland and a similar number in the capital Wellington.

Rallies are being held in several cities in Australia, where a protest in Melbourne on Friday drew a crowd estimated by organisers at 150,000 – the largest there since anti-Vietnam War marches 30 years ago.

In Seoul – capital of South Korea, one of the staunchest US allies in Asia – hundreds of demonstrators rallied, shouting chants such as “Bush, Terrorist!” and carrying banners urging “Drop Bush, not bombs”.

The protests – also involving thousands of demonstrators in South Africa – come a day after UN chief weapons inspector Hans Blix issued a largely positive assessment of the UN’s disarmament process in Iraq.

Novel protests

In London, organisers are confidently predicting what could be the country’s largest anti-war protest.

UK Prime Minister Tony Blair has suffered a fall in popularity following his staunch support of US plans to launch military action against Saddam Hussein.

“We believe that the London demonstration will be one of the biggest and the most pivotal because the British Government is actively involved in the build up to war and the British people definitely do not want war,” said Stop The War UK leader Andrew Murray.

Speakers at the rally in Hyde Park will include Charles Kennedy, leader of Britain’s second-biggest opposition party and US activist Jesse Jackson.

In New York a protest is scheduled to commence at 1200 local time (1700GMT) near the United Nations headquarters – the currently scene of intense diplomatic discussions following Friday’s report by Hans Blix.

Celebrities and activists such as Susan Sarandon, Danny Glover, South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu and black activist Angela Davis will be attending the demonstration.

And they be joined by some families of the victims of the attack on the World Trade Center, marching as “9/11 Families for Peace.”

Say it with flowers

Protests are also planned in other European countries including France and Germany – two of the most vociferous opponents of any war on Iraq – and Rome, where more than one million people are expected to attend.

Anti-war activists in Turkey are calling on fellow citizens to simultaneously turn off all lights at 2000 local time (2200 GMT) as a novel sign of support for anti-war sentiment.

In Malaysia – a predominantly Muslim state – hundreds demonstrated outside the US embassy in Kuala Lumpur bearing banners and placards with slogans such as: “No war. Stop US aggression” and “No more blood for oil”.

And in Thailand about 2,000 people – mostly Muslims – rallied in front of the US and UK embassies in the capital on Saturday.

The tiny South Pacific island nation of Fiji also saw its share of anti-war sentiment, with an anti-war group sending floral messages to foreign embassies urging them to put pressure on the US and its allies to avoid war.

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