Never before would one cause have drawn so many together around the world. The demonstrations against a war in Iraq called Saturday this week will draw millions.
Stop the War Coalition which started it all counted 354 cities last week in almost every country that will hold demonstrations. Four weeks earlier a spokesman had said the number of cities holding demonstrations had risen from 11 to 27.
Anti-war marchers hold paper doves during a demonstration in Melbourne, February 14, 2003. Hundreds of thousands of people turned out to protest against a possible U.S.-led war against Iraq. REUTERS/Glenn Hunt
”Even we were not expecting this,” Chris Nineham from Stop the War Coalition told IPS. They have stopped counting any more.
Inevitably, the anti-war movement has not spread evenly around the world. It has found little success in Africa, and drawn a varied response across Asia. In Latin America support seems uncertain beyond the committed Left.
Large anti-war rallies are being planned in Arab capitals such as Damascus in Syria and Cairo in Egypt. Democratic protest is not a way of life in these countries, but the demonstrations have been planned on the back of an unusual coming together of state policy and popular protest.
But the movement is strongest where the government push for war is strongest - in Britain and the U.S.
London Leads the Way
London is leading the way in Europe. Close to a million are expected to join the London demonstration. Only a week ago Stop the War Coalition was expecting half a million. More than 450 organizations are joining the demonstration, along with 11 parties, which include the Liberal Democrats, the rising third force in British politics (after Labour and the Conservatives).
At their little office in Brick Lane in London's East End, Stop the War Coalition is barely able to handle what it started only a few months back.
The U.S. stand on Iraq has divided European governments as never before, and it has united millions of people in Europe as never before. Anti-war groups are not calling these the February 15 rallies any more; they speak of this now as ”mobilization”.
In France, Belgium and Germany, street muscle is for once in line with government policy.
In Paris up to 200,000 had been expected to join the demonstration. ”But it now seems that the number could be higher,” a spokesman for the anti-war alliance told IPS.
At least 100,000 are expected to demonstrate in Berlin. A massive demonstration has been planned in Brussels. Many of the demonstrations in Europe have been organized by the Platform Against War on Iraq comprising 170 non-governmental organizations
Across the rest of Europe, opinion polls show public in open conflict with governments backing the U.S., particularly in Britain, Italy and Spain. Polls indicate the highest opposition to war in Sweden, Greece and Germany.
The degree of opposition to war has wavered over past weeks. But opinion polls indicated it was rising after what most people found to be an unconvincing plea by U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell in the United Nations.
A British government dossier on Iraq supposedly compiled from intelligence reports was found to have been plagiarized substantially from an essay posted on the web by a 29-year-old Californian. This added to the simmering anger.
The anti-war group acknowledges its debt. ”Our best recruiting agents have been Bush and Blair,” says Andrew Murray who heads the anti-war coalition in Britain.
Revolt in U.S. Cities
Representatives from dozens of U.S. cities that have passed resolutions opposing a war on Iraq are trying to meet President Bush and deliver their message first-hand.
Over just a few weeks the number of these cities has risen from less than 50 to 83, according to the website citiesforpeace.org. That growth mirrors the blossoming of an anti-war movement in North America.
”This is the biggest peace movement we've had since Vietnam,” says Josh Matlow, national campaign organizer of the Canadian Peace Alliance. ”I'm getting calls from animal rights groups, energy groups and others not usually associated with the peace movement. I'm getting hundreds of calls a day.”
Hundreds of thousands are expected to join the anti-war rally Saturday in New York city. City authorities have refused to allow demonstrators to march past the United Nations headquarters.
The rally is being organized by United for Peace and Justice, an umbrella body of 70 groups formed late last year to oppose the war. The group is being supported by Not in Our Name, whose 'Pledge of Resistance' has been printed in dozens of newspapers around the world.
An estimated 200,000 people are believed to have joined demonstrations held in San Francisco and Washington January 18. The rally on Saturday is expected to draw many more people, and more determined people.
”The last thing I want to do is get in the way of a working person trying to get to work,” says Leone Reinbold, a veteran of civil disobedience protests. ”But when 200,000 people marching in the streets doesn't get people's attention in Washington, this is our last resort.”
Scattered Moves in Middle East and Asia
Palestinians and Israelis are being asked to come together to demonstrate against war plans. Israeli organizations backing the call include the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, Taayush-Arab Jewish Partnership, The Alternative Information Center and the Coalition of Women for Peace. Several busloads of demonstrators are expected to arrive in Tel Aviv.
Anti-war protests have been planned in many Asian countries on Saturday. Groups opposing war have been making calls like ”Stop the War, Demonstrate Saturday” to draw people to rallies. ”Wake up, USA, Wake up Japan, and Wake Up Our Soul,” says one group in Tokyo calling on people to come out to protest.
More than 50 civil society groups have backed a rally at a local park in Bangkok. The demonstrators plan to march to the U.S. embassy in Bangkok. ”War is an ineffective way to deal with weapons of mass destruction,” says Greenpeace South-east Asia which is joining the demonstration.
Stop the War Coalition has called on people to join the protests in Kuala Lumpur outside the U.S. embassy. Many activists have launched a signature campaign in Malaysia against a war on Iraq.
Left Fights for Peace
Non-governmental organizations, intellectuals and leftist parties throughout Latin America are rallying forces to boost attendance at the global day of anti-war protests Saturday, while their governments take a more cautious stance.
In Argentina, associations of mothers and grandmothers of those who disappeared during the 1976-1983 dictatorship have attacked Washington for ”trying to impose its hegemony over the rest of the world at any cost.”
The women are planning to join the march along with local artists, journalists and members of human rights groups. The anti-war march in Buenos Aires will end outside the U.S. embassy.
In Mexico, Nobel Peace laureate Rigoberta Menchú told IPS that ”the most important thing about the peace movement is that for the first time in the history of war, the political, academic, human rights and civil society worlds are united around the planet to reject war.” A large rally has been planned for Saturday through downtown Mexico City.
Brazil is also seeing preparations for anti-war demonstrations Saturday. The Rio Peace Committee, which includes the Brazilian Press Association, leftist parties, trade unions and the MST (landless farmers movement), is organizing a march through the main avenue in the Copacabana neighborhood.
Activists in Brazil are also calling for a one-day boycott of products and services of companies based in the United States or any other country whose government supports war against Iraq.
The anti-war movement in Venezuela is organizing a march through Caracas under the slogan ”Not a drop of Venezuelan oil for the war”, says Sergio Sánchez, of Utopía, a political group.
Peace organizations in Chile are pressing the government of Ricardo Lagos to stand up to the United States and insist on pursuing all diplomatic means possible to prevent a military attack on Iraq.
Former South African President Nelson Mandela told an international women's group in Johannesburg January 30: ”One power (the U.S.) with a president who has no foresight and cannot think properly, is now wanting to plunge the world into a holocaust.” But in this struggle Mandela has found few followers.
Anti-war demonstrations have been planned in Kenya. The demonstrators are up against growing ties between Kenya and the U.S. Kenyan and U.S. troops recently conducted joint military exercises.
To keep up the pressure, feeble as it is, about 300 anti-war campaigners protested Tuesday outside the offices of the U.S. oil company ExxonMobil in Johannesburg. There is little sign of any significant preparation for any major demonstration Saturday.
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