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    Demonstrators of both opinions protest outside MacDill

    [Times photo: Toni L. Sandys]
    Gulf War veteran Raymond Simmons of Tampa salutes in the direction of the rally for troops on the opposite side of Dale Mabry Highway during the protest outside MacDill Air Force Base.

    © St. Petersburg Times
    published March 16, 2003

    Conflict between the United States and Iraq may start soon, but it's already begun outside MacDill Air Force Base.

    About 300 antiwar protesters gathered outside the Dale Mabry Highway entrance to the base Saturday while 100 counterdemonstrators across the street taunted them, calling them cowards and communists.

    In Tampa, St. Petersburg and around Florida, peace protesters rallied Saturday in a last-ditch effort to stop the war. But with war looking more like an inevitability, attendance was lower than expected in Tampa, Orlando and Miami.

    Outside MacDill, peace protesters chanted "No blood for oil!" and sang Give Peace a Chance. Counterdemonstrators sang God Bless the USA and waved American flags; one of their signs showed a peace symbol and the slogan, "Still the footprint of the American chicken."

    "They're allowed to say what they're saying, but I'm allowed to say what I'm saying," said Stephen Essex of Bradenton, whose son is a soldier stationed in Kuwait. "I think they're anti-American, and they should all be ashamed."

    Counterdemonstrators yelled taunts across the street:

    "It's nice to know you support terrorism!"

    "You are a disgrace to your country!"

    "Why don't you choke to death on your granola bar!"

    Shouts notwithstanding, the crowd never got violent. At least 30 Tampa police officers were on hand.

    Many cars driving in and out of MacDill honked in support of both sides. Some drivers gave a thumbs-up sign, while others raised a middle finger.
    [Times photo: Lara Cerri]
    More than 100 war protesters carry signs near BayWalk in St. Petersburg. They circulated through the downtown area.

    War protester Dean Mogelgaard of Clearwater thought some of the taunts were inappropriate.

    "I don't know if I can accuse one side of having more anger than others, but on this side . . . we're being a little more quiet and peaceful," he said.

    Still, antiwar protesters weren't swayed from their message.

    "He's not King Bush, he's not God Bush, he's President Bush," said Billie Lofland of Temple Terrace. "It is their right to support their position, and it is our right to disagree with it."

    In St. Petersburg, about 100 people marched around downtown Saturday evening, chanting "One, two, three, four, we don't want Bush's war," and carrying signs saying "Patriots for peace" and "Regime change begins at home."

    "I could have sat at home in my easy chair," said 97-year-old protester Peggy Price of Tampa, "but I wanted to tell the world that great-grandmothers say, 'No war!' "

    This crowd will never be persuaded by President Bush. In their view, Saddam Hussein is simply not a threat to the United States, and an invasion of Iraq would be an immoral bloodbath.

    Growing numbers have been protesting every Saturday evening outside BayWalk, but St. Petersburg police asked them to keep moving around downtown this time. Police said they were worried about possible traffic injuries because passing drivers were looking at protest signs, not at pedestrians crossing Second Avenue N.

    Many local peace activists fear that war will start this week or next. Others still hold out hope for a peaceful solution.

    "A lot of us don't believe war is inevitable," said protest organizer Mark Phillips of Largo. At 7 p.m. tonight, a number of Tampa Bay area residents will participate in a global candlelight vigil for peace. Locations include Bayshore Boulevard at Bay to Bay Boulevard in Tampa; Upham Beach in St. Pete Beach; the beach at 18th Avenue in Indian Rocks Beach; and St. Anthony's Park across from the hospital at 1200 Seventh Ave. N in St. Petersburg.

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