WASHINGTON - More than 100,000 protesters flooded Washington on Saturday to stage dual demonstrations against the U.S.-led war in Iraq and economic globalization, before coming together to demand President George W. Bush bring troops home.
"We need a people's movement to end this war," said Cindy Sheehan, an anti-war protester whose son was killed in fighting in Iraq. Camping out in Crawford, Texas, during much of August while Bush was vacationing there, Sheehan's rallies drew crowds there that sometimes numbered in the hundreds as she demanded a meeting with Bush.
Anti-war protester Cindy Sheehan (center R) of Vacaville, California, and Reverend Jesse Jackson take part in a protest march to end the war in Iraq, in Washington, September 24, 2005. Hundreds of thousands of protesters flooded Washington on Saturday to stage dual demonstrations against the U.S.-led war in Iraq and economic globalization, and to demand that President George W. Bush bring troops home now. REUTERS/Jason Reed
Thousands of demonstrators march through San Francisco to protest the war in Iraq on Saturday, Sept. 24, 2005. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)
Demonstrators take part in a massive protest against U.S. involvement in Iraq, in downtown Los Angeles Saturday, Sept. 24, 2005. Drums pounded, voices boomed and whistles shrieked as demonstrators, some 15,000 by police estimates, marched in the shadows of downtown skyscrapers Saturday, one of several California demonstrations on a day of protests across the country. (AP Photo/Reed Saxon)
Bush, who met with Sheehan in 2004 after her son was killed, refused to meet with her again.
"We'll be the checks and balances on this out-of-control criminal government," Sheehan, who has become the anti-war movement's best-known face, told the group gathered at the Ellipse, a park behind the White House.
In Los Angeles, about 15,000 people protested peacefully, while thousands more marched in San Francisco and in London urging an end to military action in Iraq nearly 30 months after an invasion ousted Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.
The crowds in Washington swelled through the day, and by late afternoon organizers of the anti-war demonstration said 300,000 people had assembled -- exceeding an anticipated 100,000. Washington police declined to comment on the size of the rally.
Meanwhile, 1,000 to 3,000 people, as estimated by demonstration organizers, gathered a few blocks away to protest the autumn meetings of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, saying policies that promote globalization and reduce trade barriers hurt the world's poor.
CIRCLING THE WHITE HOUSE
Many of them joined the anti-war march that circled a wide swath of downtown Washington, including the White House. They walked slowly, and often silently, and carried a blocks-long string of pictures of the 1,900 U.S. soldiers who have died in Iraq.
"We're here to bring a dose of reality to the American public," said Chad Hetman, a member of an anti-war veterans' group. "This war was based on lies."
The protesters were graying baby boomers who had railed against the Vietnam War, parents pushing strollers with toddlers, college students and a few adults in wheelchairs.
On Washington's National Mall, they set up a faux military cemetery of hundreds of small, white crosses in neat lines. In Los Angeles, 60 mock coffins draped in American flags were laid out in rows on a downtown street.
"This is what we are losing every day," said Vickie Castro, of Riverside, California, standing in front of the coffins with a picture of her son, Cpl. Jonathan Castro, who was killed in action in Mosul, Iraq, in 2004.
Demonstrations in Washington and London took aim at the Bush administration, calling its policies and actions "criminal."
Some protesters carried signs calling Bush and Cheney "Liars." One sign said, "Bush is a Cat 5 Disaster," in a reference to the recent hurricanes that have hammered the U.S. Gulf Coast.
Another said, "Make Levees, Not Humvees" -- referencing the New Orleans levees that Katrina breached and recalling the "Make Love, Not War" chant of 1960s Vietnam war protesters.
The demonstrations also drew anarchists, communists and environmentalists. Others called for an end to the U.S. economic embargo on Cuba and expressed solidarity with leftist Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and the Palestinians.
Protesters tried to link their separate causes under the umbrella of a fight against global poverty.
Some at the IMF/World Bank protest said they were fighting for the rights of the poor in Louisiana displaced by Hurricane Katrina, the poor in Iraq who are being hurt by war and those that protesters say are forced into poverty by IMF policies.
A U.S. veterans' group criticized the protesters.
"The political protesters of the '60s didn't end their war and neither will this new generation," Jim Mueller, head of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, said in a statement. "They will, however, achieve the same result -- they will devastate troop morale."
A veteran of the Iraq war at the Washington march disagreed.
"People join the military to defend their country, not lies," said Adam Reuter, a 22-year-old Georgia resident who was given a medical discharge from the Army four months ago.
Washington police said they made two arrests by Saturday afternoon.
Additional reporting by Paritosh Bansal in Los Angeles
© 2005 Reuters Ltd.