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The Largest Coordinated AntiWar Protest In History

The Largest Coordinated Anti-War Protest In History


People throughout the world have thronged to anti-war demonstrations on February 14-16 in numbers that even protest organisers thought unimaginable. As Green Left Weekly went to press, it appears, based on conservative estimates, that more than 12 million people have taken part in the largest coordinated anti-war demonstration in history.

Outraged by the vicious determination of the US and British governments to launch a massive, unprovoked, military attack on Iraq, people mobilised in more than 700 cities and towns, across more than 60 countries and on every continent — even the McMurdo base in Antarctica!

The international weekend of anti-war protests was proposed by the European Social Forum in Florence in November and endorsed by many international activist gatherings since, including the World Social Forum in Brazil, held in January.

The worldwide protests kicked off in Fiji on the morning of February 14 with the Fiji Anti-War Movement presenting a floral Valentine's Day protest to the representatives of the US, British and Australian governments. FAWM spokesperson Stanley Simpson urged US President George Bush, Australia's PM John Howard and Britain's Labour PM Tony Blair not to “sacrifice beautiful young lives for your own interests”.

In New York City on February 15, protesters braved icy winds to rally near the United Nations building, filling the streets for 20 blocks. Organisers estimated the crowd at more than 400,000 people. This was despite a decision by New York mayor Michael Bloomberg and the police, upheld by the courts, to ban the planned march. Speakers included South Africa's Desmond Tutu, and celebrities Danny Glover, Harry Belafonte and Susan Sarandon.

Another 200,000 people marched or rallied in around 140 cities and towns throughout the US, including 60,000 in Los Angeles, 50,000 in Seattle and 10,000 in Chicago. The next major anti-war protest in the US will be a convergence at the White House on March 1.

“This is unprecedented. Demonstrations only got this large against the Vietnam War at the height of the conflict, years after it started”, a spokesperson for International ANSWER, one of the anti-war groups that organised the protests across the US, told the British Guardian.

Jeff Shantz told GLW that up to 50,000 marched in Toronto on February 15 and 100,000 in Montreal. In Ottawa, 6000 people braved below freezing temperatures. Tens of thousands of Canadians also turned out for protests in Halifax, Windsor, Edmonton, Alberta and Victoria.

The biggest demonstrations took place in countries whose governments have defied the overwhelming public opposition to war.

On February 15, a sea of people — with estimates as high as 2 million — flooded London. Britain is Washington's key war partner. The protest was organised by the Stop the War Coalition, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and the Muslim Association of Britain.

Up to 60,000 people also mobilised in Glasgow, in order to confront Blair, who was speaking at a Labour Party conference in the city, Matt Preston from the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP) reported.

“People in Scotland were keen to take the chance to show Blair how they feel. Coaches were even organised to bring people from across the English border from Manchester”, Preston told GLW. “Of course, the establishment was not slow to make it as difficult as possible to organise the demonstration. The Labour Party asked the Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre, the venue for Labour's conference, to refuse permission for the demonstration to have a stage and PA system.

“Tommy Sheridan, the SSP member in the Scottish Parliament promptly responded to this move by tabling a motion in the parliament to allow the event to take place. He argued: `New Labour wants to stifle all opposition to warmonger Blair, who will be speaking at the SECC. We are demanding that they are forced to climb down and allow the rally. Will New Labour now repent and lift the ban? If they don't, we shall drown them in a storm of protest on the 15th!”

According to the London Observer 40,000 people took part in the February 15 march in Dublin, making it one of the largest-ever protest gatherings in Ireland, while in Belfast 10,000 demonstrators took to the streets of the city centre.

Millions more came out in Italy and Spain, whose right-wing governments have backed the US-British invasion of Iraq — despite polls showing that 70% oppose even a UN-endorsed war on Iraq in these countries.

At least 2 million people from all over Italy converged on Rome, GLW's correspondent Stephen Bennetts reported. The historic centre of Rome, between the Colosseum and piazza San Giovanni, was packed for hours in a slow-moving carnival of coloured banners, dancing and music.

The slogan “Stop the war; no ifs or buts” brought together participants from across Italian society and from more than 400 different associations. Catholic nuns and priests marched alongside young people with dreadlocks, nose rings and Palestinian scarves. Christians, anarchists and communists mingled. Many marchers had left home late the night before, travelling on nearly 3000 special buses and 30 extra trains.

The rally stage was hung with one of the 20th century's most vivid images of war, Pablo Picasso's “Guernica”. Speakers from all over the world addressed the rally, including Kurds, Iraqi dissidents, Palestinians, a representative of the American Council of Churches and an Israeli conscientious objector who had spent three months in a military prison for refusing to serve on the West Bank.

Many millions of people joined protests in Spain. This included 1.5 million in Barcelona, up to 2 million in the Spanish capital, Madrid, 500,000 in Valencia, 250,000 in Seville, 100,000 in Los Palmas and 100,000 in Cadiz.

Coaches carrying people from more than 300 German towns converged on Berlin on February 15. Around 500,000 protested, reported Der Spiegel. ATTAC Germany's spokesperson Malte Keutzseldt described it as Germany's “largest peace march in 20 years”. “A new generation of young people is deeply concerned. The churches and trade unions have linked to make the coalition far broader than even the anti-nuclear missile marches in the 1980s”, Keutzseldt told the British Guardian.

Around 100,000 people marched in Brussels on February 15, GLW's Peter Boyle and John Percy reported: “The march took three-and-a-half hours to cross the city centre. Demonstrators with home-made signs stretched as far as the eye could see. Organisers had expected 30,000. It was the biggest march in this home of the European Parliament and NATO for a long time.

“All age groups were represented as were many nationalities. We took along a placard that said, `Half a million Australians march to stop Bush! Stop Howard! No war!'. It drew the attention of other Australians, including two young people from Alice Springs. They had caught a train from Antwerp and demonstrators got on from all the small towns on the way to Brussels. Scores of Belgians came up to express their solidarity with the small Australian contingent but many asked: `Who is Howard?'.”

There were rallies in almost every European capital. According to reports on the Indymedia network, 300,000 people protested across France, including 100,000 in Paris. Up to 100,000 marched in Athens. In Amsterdam, 75,000 protested. Around 100,000 people took part across Sweden, as did almost 25,000 in Finland.

Around 10,000 people marched in Auckland, New Zealand, on February 15. In the capital, Wellington, 8000 people rallied outside Parliament House. Protesters demand that the NZ Labour government withdraw a New Zealand navy frigate and an air force Orion aircraft from the Gulf. There were anti-war actions in at least 20 centres in NZ, including one that attracted 500 people in Dunedin. The protests, which were organised by Global Peace and Justice Network and Peace Movement Aotearoa, were the biggest in NZ since the huge anti-apartheid protests of the 1980s.

In other parts of Asia, LaborNet Japan web site reported that 25,000 people gathered at an anti-war protest in Tokyo on February 14. In the Philippines, 6000 people marched to the US embassy in Manila.

On February 15, 3000 Malaysians demonstrated outside the US embassy in Kuala Lumpur. Muslims and non-Muslims joined forces to chant anti-war slogans in Malay, English, Mandarin and Tamil. After 10 minutes, riot police ordered the protesters to disperse or be arrested. The cops backed down, however, when the crowd defied them. The protest was initiated by the Socialist Party of Malaysia and coordinated by the Coalition Against War.

Rachel Rinaldo from Jakarta told GLW that a small but spirited anti-war protest was held there on February 15. About 150 protestors marched peacefully through the central Jakarta. The demonstrators, who sang, chanted, and drummed were from a coalition of leftist groups called the Anti-Imperialist Front. The coalition includes the People's Democratic Party.

Singing, ``Come on resist imperialism, resist imperialism, resist imperialism, come on resist'', the protesters walked from the Grand Hyatt hotel to the British embassy and then to the UN. The

protest ended in front of the US embassy, where demonstrators burnt an effigy and an US flag.

In Pakistan, there were protests in 20 cities, including Lahore, Karachi and Islamabad. The Labour Party Pakistan's Yousaf Ba1uch reported that more than 2000 people marched in Lahore on February 15. “Demonstrators chanted slogans against imperia1ist aggression and in favour of the Iraqi people. Almost ha1f of the participants were women, thanks to the support of the Women's Action Forum”, Baluch told GLW.

In Johannesburg, 20,000 people took to the streets under the banner of the Anti-War Coalition, toyi-toying and chanting “No to war on Iraq”, Salim Vally told GLW. They were addressed by Trevor Ngwane of the Anti-Privatisation Forum before marching to the US consulate. Speakers there criticised the African National Congress government for allowing British and US warships headed to the Gulf to dock in Durban. In Cape Town, 5000 protested, while 3000 took part in Durban.

In the Middle East, 10,000 protested in Damascus, Syria, on February 15, as did 10,000 in Beirut, Lebanon, and 5000 in Amman, Jordan. Three thousand rallied in Tel Aviv, in a protest coordinated with a similar one held in Ramallah, in the occupied West Bank.

Perhaps the most inspiring demonstration was in Dili, East Timor, on February 15. It was attended by around 150 people. The marchers assembled at Borja da Costa and proceeded to the embassies of the Australia, Britain and the US.

As the Dili protest organisers explained: “The government of the United States, with support from Great Britain and Australia, is leading the charge for war against Iraq... From 1975 until 1999, they supported the brutal Indonesian occupation of this country, supplying weapons and training to the Indonesian army to better enable it to kill and torture the East Timorese people. There is no moral principle in their current desire to overthrow Saddam Hussein... We believe that the real reason for this call for war is oil not ... international terrorism or weapons of mass destruction.”

[Next week's Green Left Weekly will include more coverage of the February 14-16 anti-war mobilisations around the world.]

From Green Left Weekly, February 19, 2003.
Visit the Green Left Weekly home page.

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