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Iraq

Protests wane as war rages

©Associated Press

March 23, 2003


LONDON -- Hundreds of thousands of people demonstrated in cities around the world Saturday, but their rallies for an immediate end to war in Iraq were far smaller than recent protests.

"Bush, murderer," chanted protesters in Paris, while demonstrators in Finland roared: "George Bush, CIA, how many kids did you kill today?"

Organizers said they had little time to plan the protests, and there was little sign of people responding to calls to pour into the streets or responding spontaneously to the start of war. Despite large turnouts in some cities Saturday, the mostly peaceful marches were dwarfed by protests Feb.15, some of the largest demonstrations in history.

There was a sense of frustration among marchers in London. The turnout -- put at 200,000 by police -- was much lower than last month's mass rally, which drew at least 750,000 people.

There were many reasons for the lower turnout. Although polls had consistently showed a large majority of Britons opposed to military action without U.N. approval, many have put aside their opposition now that hostilities have begun.

A new poll by ICM, to be published Sunday in the News of the World newspaper, reports that 4 out of 5 respondents believe U.S. and British forces should see the military campaign through to a "successful conclusion." It also reports that 56 percent believe Blair's handling of the crisis had been "about right," compared to 29 percent just two weeks ago.

Mainstream politicians like Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy, who spoke at last month's rally and voted against the war in the House of Commons last week, announced they would not attend Saturday out of respect for the 40,000 British troops stationed in the Gulf.

Many protesters said they did not expect British Prime Minister Tony Blair or President Bush to listen to them.

Protests would grow as the war continued, organizers said, but some marchers said people were discouraged and support may be ebbing.

Tens of thousands protested in dozens of marches in European countries, including Britain, France, Germany, Finland, Italy, Sweden, Norway and Denmark.

A few radicals scuffled with police on the fringes of some demonstrations and there were scattered arrests.

In the Spanish capital, Madrid, police fired rubber bullets to disperse protesters for the second consecutive day. In Barcelona, police said 150,000 protested, while town hall officials estimated up to half a million.

Dozens of protesters in Oslo, Norway, hurled rocks and paint at police who used tear gas and dogs to stop them from reaching the U.S. embassy.

About 90,000 people marched in Paris, police said. French protesters singled out the McDonald's fast food chain as a symbol of American influence, with protesters pelting rocks at a restaurant in Strasbourg and others bursting into a McDonald's in Lyon.

Police said 30,000 people marched in Bern, Switzerland. In Amsterdam, in the Netherlands, police said about 25,000 marched against the war, while organizers claimed 75,000.

In Berlin, about 40,000 protested and one placard declared "Dresden 1945, Baghdad 2003: The same crime" -- a reference to the Allied firebombing of the eastern German city at the end of World War II.

Protesters also gathered outside U.S. military bases in Europe. About 5,000 people protested at an air base in Fairford, England, from where U.S. B-52 bombers have been flying sorties, laying flowers at the main gate for "the death of democracy."

In Asia, the largest demonstrations were in Indonesia, the world's most populous Islamic nation, but only a few thousand people took part, some burning U.S. flags and photos of Bush.

"Fight back, Americans are killers," protesters chanted outside the U.S. embassy in Jakarta.

Protests continued for a second day in the Middle East after violent anti-American clashes the day before. U.S. embassies or consulates in Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates were closed or reduced services as missions reviewed security amid a wave of anti-U.S. sentiment.

Riot police used tear gas against some 200 high school students who threw stones near the U.S. embassy in Bahrain. Hundreds of riot police watched as about 5,000 students gathered at Al-Azhar University in Cairo.

"Oh Arab army! Where are you?" the Cairo students chanted, calling on Arab nations to send troops to support Iraq.

In some nations, protests singled out Britain and Australia, the only nations fighting with U.S. forces. Italian police used tear gas to break up protesters who tossed paint at the British consulate in Venice and 4,000 people marched to the Australian embassy in New Zealand.

-- Information from the Washington Post was used in this report.

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