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'The Whole World Is Against This War' | The Nation

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John Nichols

John Nichols

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'The Whole World Is Against This War'

"The whole world is against this war. Only one person wants it," declared South African teenager Bilqees Gamieldien as she joined a Cape Town antiwar demonstration on a weekend when it did indeed seem that the whole world was dissenting from George W. Bush's push for war with Iraq.

Millions of protesters marched into the streets of cities from Tokyo to Tel Aviv to Toronto and Bush's homestate of Texas to deliver a message expressed by the Rev. Jesse Jackson to a crowd of more than one million in London: "It's not too late to stop this war."

Crowd estimates for demonstrations of the kind being seen this weekend are always a source of controversy, especially when nervous politicians -- like British Prime Minister Tony Blair -- try to convince journalists and the public to dismiss the significance of the protests even before they begin. But, faced with a historic show of dissent, even the constantly spinning Blair had to acknowledge that the cost for his unwavering support of the Bush administration on Iraq is turning out to be "unpopular" in his own land.

Britain's Guardian newspaper described the London march as the largest peace demonstration in the country's history. The headline on Sunday morning's Observer newspaper read, "One million. And still they came," and announced that the "massive turnout surpassed the organisers' wildest expectations and Tony Blair's worst fears." Organizers of the British march estimated that as many as 1.5 million were cheering as London Mayor Ken Livingstone told the crowd, "So let everyone recognise what has happened here today: that Britain does not support this war for oil. The British people will not tolerate being used to prop up the most corrupt and racist American administration in over 80 years."

German police said 500,000 marched in Berlin, while organizers put the number considerably higher. In Rome, an estimated one million marched on a day when newspapers reported that polls show 85 percent of Italians do not support a war to disarm Iraq. Organizers put the size of the Madrid crowd at 600,000, while city officials said as many as 1.3 million took to the streets in Barcelona. At least 300,000 people gathered in cities across France.

The protests spread around the globe, to Canada and Mexico, to Austria, Bosnia, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Cyprus, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, the Netherlands and Russia, and to Bahrain, Bangladesh, Hong Kong, India, Israel, Iraq, South Korea Thailand.

New York's streets were jammed by a crowd that stretched 20 blocks down the city's First Avenue and overflowing onto Second and Third avenues. Estimates of the actual turnout varied wildly, but it seemed reasonable to suggest that at least 300,000 protesters converged for the midtown rally site where Archbishop Desmond Tutu, actors Susan Sarandon and Danny Glover, singers Pete Seeger and Harry Belafonte and US Rep. Dennis Kucinich appeared. "Peace! Peace!" shouted Tutu. "Let America listen to the rest of the world -- and the rest of the world is saying: 'Give the inspectors time.'"

Among those expressing opposition to plans for war was Adele Welty, whose son, Timothy, was a firefighter killed in the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. "Timothy was at the World Trade Center on September 11 to save lives," said Welty. "I don't feel that he would sanction innocent lives either in this country or in Iraq being shed in his name."

The larger-than-expected crowds that rallied around the world fed a renewed confidence among peace activists that the message of signs carried at one of the weekend's first rallies -- in Auckland, New Zealand -- might yet turn out to be right: "We can stop this war."

As yachting's America's Cup opened Saturday in that New Zealand city, a plane chartered by Greenpeace circled over the harbor pulling a huge banner with the words: "No War, Peace Now."

"Bugga off bully boy Bush" was the chant on the streets of Auckland as thousands of anti-war demonstrators proudly launched a weekend of protests. "Millions of people around the world are rallying today to say no to war and New Zealand is the first country to send this message," said Greenpeace's Robbie Kelman. "Countries like New Zealand must add their weight to efforts for a peaceful solution to this crisis."

The point of the global protests, according to Kucinich, the co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus who will travel to Iowa this week to launch a bid for the Democratic presidential race as an explicitly anti-war candidate, was to add grassroots pressure to the diplomatic push to avoid war.

Echoing the view of French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin, who successfully thwarted a Bush administration to ramp up support for war at Friday's United Nations Security Council meeting, the protests around the world argued that war is not justified at a point when evidence indicates that U.N. inspectors are making progress toward disarming Iraq.

Dramatic early evidence of global antiwar sentiment came from Australia, where an estimated 200,000 people filled the streets of Melbourne Friday to protest their government's support of US plans to attack Iraq.

"This is a huge statement by the people of Melbourne, and the people of Australia to John Howard: that he's gone the wrong way and should turn around," said Australian Senator Bob Brown, a Green, who last week led a successful effort by senators to censure Australian Prime Minister John Howard for dispatching troops to the Persian Gulf region. "The people of Australia don't see this as our war."

Organized by labor, religious and student groups, the Melbourne protest was so large that commentators were speculating on the prospect that Howard could face serious political turmoil over his decision to back US President George W. Bush's push for war with Iraq. Signs at the demonstration Friday announced that this would be "Howard's End." And Australian Senator Natasha Stott Despoja told the crowd, "It is an amazing scene here with you today in a show of solidarity to send a strong message to Prime Minister Howard and the Australian government that Australians don't want war."

The Australian demonstration was described by reporters on the scene as the largest the country has seen in more than 30 years. And it was just the beginning of an around-the-world show of opposition to moves by the US, Britain and a handful of allies to force the United Nations to effectively endorse an preemptive attack on Iraq.

More than 600 demonstrations are expected to take place in communities around the world on -- from San Francisco to New York to London to Seoul, and from Antarctica to Iceland -- by the end of the weekend mobilization. Demonstrations are expected to take place in at least 60 countries. Most of the demonstrations were peaceful, although there were skirmishes in Athens; in New York, where police attempted to prevent marchers from getting near the United Nations; and in Colorado Springs, where arrests were made after demonstrators blocked a road near an Air Force base.

The New York demonstration was one of more than 200 planned for this weekend in US cities from Augusta, Maine, to Yakima, Washinbgton, and Wausau, Wisconsin. What was supposed to be a relatively modest Los Angeles demonstration gew so large that television reporters there were reporting breathlessly on the "massive" show of opposition to war. Actors Martin Sheen and Mike Farrell and director Rob Reiner joined a march that filled Hollywood Boulevard from curb to curb for four blocks. Police claimed 30,000 turned out, while organizers said the crowd ultimately swelled to almost 100,000.

Sunday march in San Francisco drew an estimated 250,000, according to estimates reported in the local media, making it one of the largest demonstrations that west coast city has ever seen. "How do you want to spend $1.5 trillion? On our children? Or on war?" Assemblywoman Patricia Wiggins, a Democratic state legislator from Santa Rosa, asked the crowd. The crowd roared for the kids, and against the war.

While weekend demonstrators in the US and Britain were seeking to change the minds of their leaders, crowds in Germany and France were expressing support for moves by the French and German governments to block Bush administration initiatives at the UN. "Help to prevent new suffering, new destruction and new death," read a sign carried by survivors of the Allied bombing of Dresden at the close of World War II. Saturday's huge protests in Berlin mocked U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's criticisms of European war foes, with signs reading, "Old Europe is Against the War."

No leader could have felt more pressure Saturday than Britain's Blair, whose personal approval ratings have dipped dramatically as he has continued to side with Bush's position on war.

Understanding that a switch by Blair could force Bush to rethink his position, Jesse Jackson flew to London to join rock stars, actors, playwrights, former Algerian President Ahmed Ben Bella and former British parliamentarian Tony Benn, who recently traveled to Iraq to interview Saddam Hussein, for the Hyde Park rally. "Iraq is a challenge that must be put in perspective. It is not the priority that Bush and Blair have made it to be," Jackson said after arriving in London.

Among those marching with Jackson and the others was British author John Mortimer, long one of the most prominent members of Blair's Labour Party. Noting revelations that Blair's government doctored intelligence reports to create a false impression that they revealed clear and present dangers from Iraq, Mortimer said in announcing his decision to join the London demonstration: "We are being persuaded into war by lies and half truths. A secret service document, making it clear there is no evidence of a connection between Saddam and al Qaeda, is disregarded. A 10-year-old article by an undergraduate is presented, and solemnly referred to by Colin Powell as if it were the latest government report, and no effort has been made for our Government to tell the truth about it."

KUCINICH BID: US Representative Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, confirmed Sunday that he will launch an exploratory committee in preparation for a presidential bid. One of the most outspoken foes of war with Iraq in Congress, Kucinich appeared at Saturday's anti-war rally in New York and then traveled to Iowa, the first Democratic caucus state to headline a planned rally in Des Moines.

A former mayor of Cleveland, Kucinich says his candidacy will be about more than just opposition to war with Iraq. But the Ohio added that, unlike several of the other Democratic contenders, he will not hesitate to address questions of war and peace bluntly. "We need to start asking why is war considered to be an instrument of policy," argues Kucinich. "Inspections are an adequate substitute for war, diplomacy is a substitute for war, human relations are a substitute for war, and so I think that there is no case made for war."

At a Sunday campaign stop in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, where the Democratic nominating process will begin with caucuses next Saturday, Kucinich declared, "Yes, I am a candidate for peace."The 75 Democratic activists present responded by giving the new candidate a standing ovation.

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