by Verena Dobnik / Associate Press –
NEW YORK (March 20, 2004) — Hundreds of thousands of people around the world rallied against the US. presence in Iraq on the first anniversary of the war Saturday, in protests that retained the anger, if not the size, of demonstrations held before the invasion began.
Protesters filled more than a dozen police-lined blocks in Manhattan, calling on President Bush to bring home U.S. troops serving in Iraq. Mayor Michael Bloomberg estimated the crowd at about 30,000, but organizers said later that number had grown to more than 100,000.
“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 rally in Manhattan.
The roughly 250 anti-war protests scheduled around the country by United for Peace and Justice ranged from solemn to brash.
Montpelier, Vt., hundreds of silent protesters placed a pair of shoes on the Statehouse steps for each of the more than 560 U.S. soldiers killed in the war. In Los Angeles, one of thousands of protesters held photographs of Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney with the words, “forget Janet Jackson’s – expose the real boobs.”
Around the world, hundreds of thousands raised their voices in rallies from Spain to Egypt to the Philippines.
Organizers estimated up to 2 million people demonstrated in Rome, and 100,000 in London, but police in those cities gave estimates of 250,000 and 25,000, respectively.
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 the Italian government, a strong supporter of the war, withdraw its 2,600 troops from Iraq.
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.”
No crowd estimate was immediately available for Madrid’s protest, although about 150,000 demonstrated in Barcelona. The numbers paled in comparison to the millions that packed streets all over Spain after the train bombings.
The rallies coincided with the anniversary of the first bombings in Baghdad last year. Although President Bush ordered the attacks on March 19, the time difference made it March 20 in Iraq.
While turnout was high in some nations, most protests were far smaller than the enormous demonstrations held around the world shortly before the war began.
A New York protest a year ago drew more than 125,000 by official estimates. Although that’s similar to organizers’ estimate Saturday, organizers last year estimated that crowd at more than 250,000.
Last year’s rally produced several clashes between demonstrators and police, but police reported just four arrests on disorderly conduct charges Saturday.
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. Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly stopped by the rally, but didn’t speak to demonstrators or participate.
In President Bush’s hometown of Crawford, about 800 peace activists from across Texas marched, chanting, “One, two, three, four, kick the liar out the door.”
“He got support based on fear,” said Shannon Sharrock of Temple, Texas, a former Army helicopter pilot whose husband serves in Iraq. “The war in Iraq has nothing to do with terrorism.”
The march kept John Taylor, an Air Force veteran who lives in Crawford, waiting at an intersection. He propped his cowboy hat above the steering wheel of his Ford pickup to block his view of the protesters, some holding up effigies of Bush.
“If they’d leave, it would be nice,” said Taylor, 28.
Thousands of protesters marched through Chicago’s downtown shopping district. The Rev. Jesse Jackson urged the crowd to express their opposition to the war by voting against Bush.
“It’s time to fight back,” Jackson said. “Remember in November.”
In Cincinnati, Claire Mugavin wore a biohazard suit to a protest that drew several hundred people. She 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.”
In San Francisco, thousands of taiko drummers, cyclists, activists and other protesters chanted “End the occupation” and “Impeach Bush.” Richard Penrose, 77, and his wife boarded an early bus from Sacramento to join the rally.
“I don’t know if Bush is going to hear the message, but we’re hoping the people of the United States hear it. Because people should have their power back,” Penrose said.
Thousands of people also turned out in Denver and Seattle, and demonstrations drew several hundred people in Atlanta, Albuquerque, N.M., and Augusta, Maine.
Many of the demonstrations were accompanied by smaller gatherings of Bush supporters. In Los Angeles, marchers passed by several dozen people who lined one Hollywood block, waving flags and chanting “Four more years.”
“We believe in George Bush. We believe in what he’s doing,” said Gary Beck, 48, who was visiting from Tampa, Fla.
Germany, Greece, the Netherlands and other European countries also saw protests, while demonstrations took place earlier in Japan, Australia and India. About 500 protesters clashed with police outside the U.S. Embassy in the Philippines capital, Manila. No injuries were reported.
Demonstrators in Cairo — vastly outnumbered by riot police –burned an American flag. Hundreds of people gathered in other Middle Eastern capitals to denounce the war.
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