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Rebuilding Iraq

Thousands rally against war on Iraq

Bush readies for summit as gulf braces for battle

By John Donnelly, Globe Staff, 3/16/2003

    Rebuilding Iraq

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 TEXT

Speeches, reports, documents

WASHINGTON -- On the eve of a summit on Iraq and perhaps days before war, hundreds of thousands of antiwar protesters marched yesterday around the White House and in cities around the globe, for what many called their last chance to urge the Bush administration to disarm Saddam Hussein's regime without resorting to force.

In some foreign cities, protesters burned effigies of President Bush and the American flag. At intersections in and around Boston, they urged motorists to "honk for peace."

In Washington, protesters wished for a last-minute change of heart. "I don't like war," Dean George, 85, of Bethesda, Md., said softly as her daughter, who had once protested the Vietnam War, pushed her in her wheelchair. It was George's first war protest. "I came because I'm worried about losing so many people."

But Bush and top aides to the British prime minister, Tony Blair, indicated yesterday that the two countries were moving to the edge of war in advance of a summit today in the Azores with the leaders of Spain and Portugal.

"Crucial days lie ahead for the free nations of the world," Bush said in his weekly radio address. "There is no doubt: We will confront a growing danger, to protect ourselves, to remove a patron and protector of terror, and to keep the peace of the world."

French and German diplomats suggested holding a meeting Tuesday at the UN Security Council to review the remaining questions raised by weapons inspectors, but it was unclear whether the idea of a last-ditch summit in support of more inspections would delay the administration's war plans. The French foreign minister, Dominique de Villepin, said Paris was "prepared to compromise, on the basis of a very tight timetable [for disarmament inspections], but not on an ultimatum and not on automatic recourse to force."

De Villepin also acknowledged that for the US government, "it's a question of days" before deciding on war.

Iraq, meanwhile, went on official war footing and divided the country into four military districts. It also invited UN weapons inspectors Hans Blix and Mohamed ElBaradei to Baghdad for more meetings next week; the two said they would consider the offer.

But Foreign Secretary Jack Straw of Britain said war looked "much more probable," and a British minister said war may be only days away.

That dose of realism was not lost on the demonstrators. But some said that even if Bush appeared ready to launch war, they needed to come to Washington to make their voice heard.

"Do I really believe we're going to change things?" said Steve Bridges, 43, pastor of the Stockbridge ( Mass.) Congregational Church, holding one side of a huge banner that read, "George W: What would Jesus do?" "Maybe we'll lose this. But I don't know how you can follow Jesus and advocate war. That's the bottom line for me."

Tens of thousands gathered in Washington, including people who took 10 buses from Boston, nine buses from Rhode Island, and several more from New Hampshire, Maine, and Western Massachusetts. Tens of thousands more demonstrators gathered in San Francisco, Tokyo, Geneva, and Boston, among other cities.

In Baghdad, crowds estimated at several hundred thousand marched in favor of Hussein and against their possible invaders.

Demonstrations in support of attacking Iraq were small or non-existent in cities around the world.

Marching alongside the Old Executive Office building, a block from the White House, a group of Washington, D.C., protesters paraded with a 12-foot-high puppet of a woman wearing a placard saying "Another Mother for Peace."

"We can stop a war. The world can stop it," said artist Marianne Ross, 68. "That's the essence of democracy."

Leading the puppeteers was Michael Beer, wielding a bullhorn, shouting, "We love French kisses! We love French kisses!" He was referring to the news that around the United States, including in a cafeteria on Capitol Hill, eateries have changed the name of French fries and French dressing to "freedom fries" and "freedom dressing" in protest of France's opposition to war. "We love French wine! We love French fries! We love French poodles!" he shouted.

The crowd, within shouting distance of the north gates of the White House, cheerfully shouted back, "We love French poodles!"

Bush was out of town. He spent yesterday at the Camp David, Md., presidential retreat and plans to leave early today for the summit on the Portuguese islands 900 miles west of Europe.

At the San Francisco demonstration, actor Danny Glover said he hoped the protests and the diplomatic activity "will allow the inspections to continue and that Iraq is not attacked in the meantime. Wherever I have gone, you have all sectors of this country coming out to say no to this war. People are saying that we need to use these resources to build, not to destroy."

Actor Martin Sheen was critical of the lack of Democratic opposition to war. "I came here today to pray and to offer a prayer for peace," Sheen said. "We should be ruled by a higher power because we are not able to do it diplomatically. I don't see why innocent people need to die in order to disarm Saddam Hussein."

In Bangkok, gray pigeons were released into the sky as symbols of peace. In Calcutta, demonstrators burned an effigy of Bush, and in the Gaza Strip, protesters burned images of Bush and Prime Minister Ariel Sharon of Israel as well as US, British, and Israeli flags.

In Spain, hundreds of thousands of protesters jammed the streets of Madrid and Barcelona. In Madrid, actors, writers, politicians, and union leaders led marchers in opposition to Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar's support for military action, waving placards saying "Aznar, Murderer."

Roughly three-quarters of Spaniards oppose war with Iraq.

In Iskenderun, Turkey, riot police blocked roads leading to the port to protect US military equipment.

And in Paris and in Washington, some protesters wore T-shirts emblazoned with pictures of Bush and the slogan: "Wanted: Terrorist Number One."

The Washington protest, organized by International ANSWER, or Act Now to Stop War & End Racism, featured a range of opinions, from those who said Bush should be impeached to those who said Bush was not their main audience now.

Several said their primary focus was people from around the country and the world.

"Is anything going to impact the administration now?" said Rick McDowell, 47, of Wendell, Mass., who was preparing along with his wife, Mary Trotochaud, to travel to Amman, Jordan, on Tuesday to help work on relief efforts in the event of a war.

McDowell has led 15 delegations of peace activists into Iraq over the past several years. "People are frustrated. But it's essential that people come together in the US to show others around the world that many oppose the war here."

Rosemary George, 52, who brought her 85-year-old mother, Dean, to the protest, said it was the first time she had come to a demonstration since a 1972 anti-Vietnam War rally. "When I was a protesting hippie, I never thought I would be going to a war protest with my mother," she said, laughing.

"But here we are," Dean George said.

"Yes," said her daughter. "It's our last chance to make a statement. You know, in the Vietnam rally, I was afraid the government troops would turn on me. Now I'm afraid that my own government isn't even listening to me."

John Donnelly can be reached at donnelly@globe.com





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