LONDON (Feb. 15, 2003) - Anti-war protests Saturday drew hundreds of thousands of people in cities around the world - from London to Canberra - united in their opposition to a threatened U.S.-led strike against Iraq.
The British capital saw one of the largest marches for peace on a day of global protest - at least a million people, organizers claimed, although initial police estimates were about half that. They hoped to heap pressure on Prime Minister Tony Blair, who has been Europe's biggest supporter of the tough U.S. policy.
''I feel they should take more time and find an alternative, and not see the only solution to the problem in bombarding the country,'' said Maria Harvey, 58, a child psychologist, who said she hadn't marched since the protests against the Gulf War in 1991.
There was another huge turnout in Rome, where many in the crowd displayed rainbow ''peace'' flags. Police offered no estimate, but organizers claimed 3 million people participated.
Hundreds of thousands marched through Berlin, backing a strong anti-war stance spearheaded by Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder. Police estimated the crowd at between 300,000 and 500,000.
''We're not taking to the streets to demonstrate against the United States, or for Iraq. We're taking to the streets because we want a peaceful resolution of the Iraq conflict,'' said Michael Sommer, head of the German Federation of Unions.
In Syria, a nation on the front line if war comes, some 200,000 protesters marched through Damascus. In Bulgaria, Hungary, South Korea, Australia, Malaysia and Thailand, demonstrations attracted thousands, while the crowds were in the hundreds or less in Romania, Bosnia, Hong Kong, Indian-controlled Kashmir and Moscow.
Police estimated that 60,000 turned out in Oslo, Norway, 50,000 in bitter cold in Brussels, while about 35,000 gathered peacefully in frigid Stockholm.
Crowds were estimated at 10,000 in Amsterdam and Copenhagen, 5,000 in Capetown and 4,000 in Johannesburg in South Africa, 5,000 in Tokyo, 3,000 in Vienna and 2,000 in Dhaka, Bangladesh.
''War is not a solution, war is a problem,'' Czech philosopher Erazim Kohak told a crowd of about 500 in Prague.
Anti-war activists hoped to draw 100,000 people to the streets in New York City later for a protest near the United Nations. Police were planning extensive security that included sharpshooters and radiation detectors.
In Baghdad, tens of thousands of Iraqis, many carrying Kalashnikovs, demonstrated across their country to support Saddam Hussein and denounce the United States.
''Our swords are out of their sheaths, ready for battle,'' read one of hundreds of banners carried by marchers along Palestine Street, a broad Baghdad avenue.
Many Iraqis hoisted giant pictures of Saddam and some burned American and Israeli flags, while in neighboring Damascus, protesters chanted anti-U.S. and anti-Israeli slogans as they marched to the People's Assembly.
Najjah Attar, a former Syrian cabinet minister, accused Washington of attempting to change the region's map. ''The U.S. wants to encroach upon our own norms, concepts and principles,'' she said in Damascus. ''They are reminding us of the Nazi and fascist times.''
Braving biting cold and snow flurries in Ukraine, some 2,000 people rallied in Kiev's central square. Anti-globalists led a peaceful ''Rock Against War'' protest joined by communists, socialists, Kurds and pacifists.
Natalya Mostenko, 45, was one of several people in Kiev carrying a portrait of Saddam. ''He opposes American dictatorship and so do I,'' she said.
In the Bosnian city of Mostar, about a hundred Muslims and Croats united for an anti-war protest - the first such cross-community action in seven years in a place where ethnic divisions here remain tense despite the 1995 Bosnian peace agreement.
''We want to say that war is evil and that we who survived one know that better than anyone,'' said Majda Hadzic, 54.
In divided Cyprus, about 500 Greeks and Turks braved heavy rain for a march which briefly blocked the end of a runway at a British air base.
Several thousand protesters in Athens, Greece, unfurled a giant banner across the wall of the ancient Acropolis - ''NATO, U.S. and EU equals War'' - before heading toward the U.S. Embassy.
Police fired tear gas in clashes with several hundred anarchists wearing hoods and crash helmets, who broke from the otherwise peaceful march to smash store windows and throw a gasoline bomb at a newspaper office.
In the Greek port of Thessaloniki, an estimated 10,000 people protested.
About 2,000 demonstrators rallied in Sofia, the Bulgarian capital. In Moscow, 300 people marched to the U.S. Embassy, with one placard urging Russian President Vladimir Putin to ''be firmer with America.''
Six hundred people rallied in downtown Hong Kong, as did 50 or so in Almaty, Kazakhstan.
Police in Srinagar in Indian-controlled Kashmir detained at least 35 protesters after about a hundred people, mostly supporters of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), marched through the city.
Demonstrators clogged a downtown park in Seoul, South Korea, to chant and listen to anti-war speeches.
''I am scared, but the Iraqi people must be more scared than I am. I share their fear,'' said Eun Kook, a 23-year-old student planning to go to Iraq. ''My mission is to sympathize with the Iraqi people and to tell the world that we oppose war.''
The day of protest began in New Zealand, where thousands gathered in cities across the country. Over Auckland harbor, a plane trailed a banner reading ''No War - Peace Now,'' at the America's Cup sailing competition.
Between 3,000 and 5,000 people marched through a suburb of Canberra, the Australian capital, to protest government support for U.S. policy. Australia has already committed 2,000 troops to the Persian Gulf for possible action.
In Tokyo, where 6,000 protested on Friday, about 300 activists gathered near the U.S. Embassy. One placard depicted a U.S. flag emblazoned with a swastika.
Demonstrators in Asia expressed skepticism that Iraq posed a threat to world security, saying that President Bush was seeking to extend American control over oil reserves.
''We must stop the war as it is part of the United States' plot for global domination,'' protest organizer Nasir Hashim told 1,500 cheering activists outside the U.S. Embassy in the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur. AP-NY-02-15-03 1131EST
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