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Protests Flare Across Globe as US Strikes Iraq

Barely three hours after the first cruise missiles slammed into Baghdad, a wave of demonstrations started in Asia and Australia and rolled swiftly across Europe and the Middle East toward the United States, where anti-war activists planned hundreds of protests later on Thursday.

In the Arab world, thousands of protesters vented their fury at the start of the war to oust Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, with demonstrators in Egypt and Syria demanding the expulsion of US ambassadors.

In Cairo, the Arab world’s biggest city, riot police used water cannon and batons against hundreds of rock-throwing protesters who tried to storm toward the US embassy.

"This war is a sin," said 43-year-old Cairo taxi driver Youssef, as religious music blared from his car radio. "It’s a sin because ordinary Iraqis will suffer. It’s not a sin because of Saddam, who was too stubborn. He’s got a head of stone."

In Italy, where Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is one of Washington’s staunchest allies on Iraq, the three biggest trade unions staged a two-hour strike.

Italian cities were thrown into chaos as tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets, in many cases blocking train stations and highways. The biggest demonstration was a march on the U.S. embassy in Rome.

In Germany, more than 80,000 schoolchildren, many with faces painted with "No War" or peace signs, protested in the capital Berlin and the cities of Stuttgart, Cologne, Munich and Hanover.

"Let’s bomb Texas, they’ve got oil too," read one banner.

In Berlin, people lay in pools of red paint outside the heavily guarded US embassy to symbolise civilian casualties.

Swiss police clashed with hundreds of protesters, mainly students, who marched on the US diplomatic mission in Geneva, firing tear gas into the air to disperse them.

Spanish police in riot gear fired rubber bullets at anti-war demonstrators, including well-known actors and celebrities, who gathered in central Madrid in protest at Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar’s support for the US-led attacks on Iraq.

Earlier they beat some demonstrators with batons in an attempt to move them on.

Violence also erupted in Calcutta, eastern India, when about 1,000 protesters waving banners reading "US warmongers go to hell" tried to storm a US cultural centre. At least 12 policemen and six demonstrators were injured when cane-wielding police drove them back, a senior police official told Reuters.

Thousands of British anti-war campaigners, enraged by the involvement of British troops in a war they see as an illegitimate grab for oil by Washington, blocked roads and scuffled with police as protests spread across Britain.

At the biggest rallying point in London’s Parliament Square, police hauled away demonstrators, including many schoolchildren, who were sitting in roads and blocking access points.

"We’re here for peace," said schoolgirl Tallulah Belly, 14, at Parliament Square. "We’ve walked out of school — we are the future generation and they should be listening to us."

The only reported clash outside a British embassy was in the Lebanese capital Beirut, where around 1,000 protesters were sprayed with water from a fire truck when they crossed barriers outside the mission. Witnesses said police beat several of them.

In France, more than 10,000 people, mostly students, surged through Paris chanting anti-war slogans, reflecting their government’s rigid anti-war stance which has infuriated Washington and split the international community into two camps.

Huge protests also took place in Greece, Spain and Austria.

In the Gaza Strip, about 1,000 Palestinian women and children marched in the Rafah refugee camp, holding Iraqi flags and posters of Saddam and setting fire to Israeli and US flags. About 150 people marched in Bethlehem in the West Bank.

On the other side of the planet, protesters brought Australia’s second largest city, Melbourne, to a standstill. Organisers put the crowd at 40,000, police said it numbered "tens of thousands." Australia is a staunch ally of the US and a supporter of the use of force to disarm Saddam.

Anti-US sentiment was also strong in Muslim Indonesia, Malaysia and Pakistan, where many saw the attack as the start of a US campaign to subjugate the Islamic world and seize oil.

In Pakistan there were scattered but peaceful rallies across the country against what some called "American terrorism," while in Indonesia some 2,000 people from a conservative Muslim party sang and chanted anti-American slogans outside the US embassy. 

(Courtesy: Reuters).

Archived from Communalism Combat, March 2003 Year 9  No. 85, Cover Story 1



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