200,000 protesters head for White House

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The Independent US

Tens of thousands of US anti-war protesters converged on the White House in Washington yesterday as campaigners around the globe staged scores of marches, rallies and peace vigils against an attack on Iraq.

Tens of thousands of US anti-war protesters converged on the White House in Washington yesterday as campaigners around the globe staged scores of marches, rallies and peace vigils against an attack on Iraq.

The White House protest was expected to draw more than 200,000 people from about 100 cities across the United States. The largest protests outside the US were held in Paris, Athens and Tokyo. There were smaller demonstrations in other capitals, such as Moscow, Cairo and Christchurch, New Zealand, and low key protests in the UK as well.

In Paris, more than 50,000 protesters, underlining popular support for President Chirac's threat to veto a UN-backed war, converged on the Place de la Nation and held up a vast US flag daubed with a Nazi swastika and the words "killers and criminals".

Smaller demonstrations were staged in Marseilles, Lyon and Toulouse, while in Athens, about 20,000 marched on the American embassy, carrying banners which read "No to the barbarism of the war".

In Britain, about 3,500 people demonstrated in York, thought to be the city's largest ever protest, with another 10,000 in Leeds, 3,500 in Exeter and 2,000 in Newcastle. In Bournemouth, about 1,000 demonstrators rallied in a town centre park, while in Portsmouth, about 500 people blockaded the naval base.

A sell-out benefit concert in London last night was due to feature Paul Weller, Faithless, Ronan Keating and Beth Orton. As speculation intensifies that the war will begin this week, a mass protest in London is already been arranged for next Saturday, with a wave of strikes and protests on the day the war breaks out.

The Washington demonstration, which overshadowed dozens of smaller events in cities such as Los Angeles and San Francisco, was the largest of the weekend's protests around the world.

College students, church activists, Jewish and Muslim peace activists, trades unionists and human rights protesters met at the Washington Monument before marching to surround the White House and nearby Justice Department in a "sea of humanity".

President George Bush had already left the White House for Camp David before his crisis meeting with Tony Blair in the Azores. Ramsay Clark, the former US Attorney General under President Johnson, suggested the war could still be halted. "Saturday may be the last chance for the American people to stand up and say no," he said.

Candlelight vigils were also planned by US religious leaders for this evening at the Washington Lincoln Memorial, to coincide with thousands of other vigils expected to take place across the world.

"My hope is that on Monday morning the [Bush] administration will realise there are two superpowers in the world: the United States and world opinion," said the Rev Bob Edgar, general secretary of the US National Council of Churches. "They haven't convinced the world there is a smoking gun."

In London, several hundred demonstrators gathered in Kilburn, Crawley and Tower Hamlets, as 500 supporters of the radical Islamist party Hizb ut-Tahrir handed in protest letters to several Middle Eastern embassies, claiming their "slavish rulers" were complicit in the US attack on Iraq.

There was, however, one counter-demonstration in London by Iraqi Kurds supporting war. Furious at the French decision to block the attack on Iraq, they delivered a petition to the French embassy. Citing years of oppression and torture at the hands of Saddam Hussein's regime, Azos Rashid, a 20-year old student and member of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, said war was justified: "Saddam is not complying with the United Nations and has not complied with previous resolutions."

In Japan around 10,000 protesters, some wearing traditional Japanese robes and others carrying placards bearing messages such as "Stop the foolish attack", marched through central Tokyo to applause from passers-by. "I am 74 years old: I have experienced war," said Ryoko Muneyama. "I hate the idea of my children or grandchildren going through it and I don't want to kill children on the other side either."

In Seoul, 2,000 South Koreans threw paper doves into the evening sky, while some of the 300 protesters in Hong Kong wore mock oil barrels. In Bangkok, about 3,000 protesters outside a UN office heard speeches and karaoke singing. In Australia and New Zealand, more than 10,000 people staged small protests in Christchurch, Dunedin and Melbourne.

In north Africa and the Middle East, protesters in Yemen, goaded into action by the country's president Ali Abdullah Saleh, left-wing groups in Turkey, protesters in Tunisia and 300 students in the Egyptian capital Cairo attacked US and British motives for staging the war.

In the Yemeni capital Sanaa, crowds brought traffic to a halt and carried placards reading "America, Britain, Israel are an axis of evil" and "Do not cede, Do not cede, No to the Anglo-American war drums."

When the B-52s fly out we'll know war's begun

By Mark Rowe

The Cotswold hamlet of Dunfield is an incongruous place to stage a peace protest. It is also an unlikely location for a military air base. RAF Fairford has become the target of campaigners since it is from here that American B-52s, capable of carrying 30 tons of bombs, which gained notoriety for their high-altitude carpet-bombing during the Vietnam War, will depart for Iraq – possibly within just a few days.

In recent days, 14 B-52s have arrived, prompting an invasion of 20 or so peace campaigners who have pitched their tents outside Gate 10, within view of the runway. Pinned to the gate are pictures of Iraqi children. "I'm a mother and I think of how Iraqi mothers must be feeling ," said Lou Selene, a Greenham Common veteran. "Of course Saddam is evil and I wish he would die but that is no excuse to bomb Iraq."

The huge fuselages and dark tail fins of the B 52s are clearly visible from the warren of country roads that surround RAF Fairford – too visible for the MoD's liking.

A steady convoy of police cars and vans encircle the base while a Section 60 order allows the police to stop and search anyone within a mile. Twelve people were arrested after cutting through fencing at the base last weekthen two more were arrested and charged with criminal damage and aggravated trespass. They said they would claim "lawful excuse" in court this week.

"It shows that even if this war is inevitable we do have an impact," said Ms Selene. "The lawful excuse defence has worked before with attacks on military targets – that may be why they've kept the B2 stealth bombers away."

Nuala Young, lecturer and grandmother of four, is organising a protest by up to 50 other grandmothers tomorrow. "We shall ask to see the base commander and when he refuses we shall sit down outside the main entrance," she said. "Then we'll see what happens."