Fresh wave of anger spreads worldwide

Human chain stretches from Munster to Osnabruck in Germany as hundreds block Rhine-Main US air base
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The Independent Online

Hundreds of thousands of demonstrators around the world staged a fresh wave of peace protests yesterday, including the first officially sanctioned anti-war marches in China.

Hundreds of thousands of demonstrators around the world staged a fresh wave of peace protests yesterday, including the first officially sanctioned anti-war marches in China.

In a deliberately restrained criticism of the US-led war in Iraq, the Chinese authorities allowed 150 foreign residents to march past the US ambassador's residence and British embassy in Beijing, while another 100 protested in a walled park in east Beijing. The rallies, tightly scripted to avoid repeating the violent protests that followed the US bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade in 1999, came as hundreds of thousands of demonstrators again targeted US, British and Australian military bases and embassies.

Rallies, marches and vigils were staged in Malaysia, Australia, Thailand, Greece, Bangladesh, South Africa and South Korea while Germany saw more than 100,000 take part in the largest of the weekend's demonstrations. In the most ambitious of yesterday's protests, around 30,000 peace activists formed a 31-mile human chain between the cities of Osnabruck and Munster, while 6,000 people surrounded the US military HQ and released blue balloons printed with the white dove of peace.

In Berlin, about 50,000 protesters converged on the capital's Victory Column, with one large group carrying a vast balloon that stated "no war". At the Rhine-Main air base near Frankfurt, police carried off hundreds of protesters who blocked the gates.

In Greece, 15,000 demonstrators chanting "we'll stop the war" marched on the US embassy in Athens, while protesters threw red paint at a McDonald's restaurant and on the road in front of the embassy. Early yesterday, another McDonald's was damaged by a grenade attack after closing time, but no-one was hurt.

Minor protests were again staged across Italy, while in Geneva, 3,500 people led by the radical French farming leader Jose Bové marched from the World Trade Organisation headquarters to the United Nation's European offices, calling for an end to the WTO and the Iraq war. In Paris, about 10,000 people marched down the Left Bank.

Meanwhile, around Britain, about 10,000 people supported about 23 small marches and rallies staged by the Stop the War Coalition in cities such as Birmingham, Edinburgh, London, Cardiff, Swansea and Manchester, in the third successive weekend of protests.

In London, the BBC was targeted by the coalition for allegedly broadcasting biased and reports on the war – a charge the BBC dismissed. About 600 people converged separately on the corporation's television and radio headquarters in central London and White City.

Meanwhile, two loyalist Labour MPs were put under pressure for voting in favour of war. About 1,000 people, including local Muslim leaders, attacked Stephen Timms, the MP for East Ham and a trade minister, for refusing to abandon his support for the war. In north London, the Labour MP Mike Gapes, deputy chairman of Labour Friends of Israel, was also the focus of a Stop the War Coalition protest.

However, several hundred people staged a counter-demonstration in Exeter to support British troops in the Gulf. Ken Hill, the event organiser and former soldier in the Royal Corps Signals, said: "The families are having a rough time and I wanted to help boost morale for them and for the troops."

Meanwhile, in the Middle East, several hundred Yemeni women demonstrated in the capital San'a, accusing the US and Britain of being part of an "axis of evil". In Port Said, about 10,000 Egyptians supported an anti-war rally organised by the country's ruling party.

In Gaza City, Israeli troops fired tear gas and rubber-coated steel bullets at hundreds of small Palestinian girls who chanted slogans in support of Saddam Hussein, including "With our souls, with our blood, we'll sacrifice ourselves to you Saddam". Several were injured.

In Dhaka, Bangladesh, the police spread out barbed wire to prevent supporters of radical Islamic groups chanting "stop genocide in Iraq" from reaching the US embassy.

In South-east Asia and the Pacific, Malaysian police used tear gas to disperse more than 1,000 demonstrators, mostly from an Islamic opposition party, who rallied outside the Australian embassy in protest at Australia's military involvement in the Iraqi conflict. The protesters scuffled with police, who then fired a round of tear gas. Twelve were arrested, in contrast to an officially sanctioned protest by Malaysia's ruling party which was attended by about 5,000 people.

In the South Korean capital, Seoul, thousands marched down an eight-lane road and called on their government to abandon plans to send 700 military engineers and military personnel to the Gulf. They later clashed with police.

In Melbourne, Australia, about 15,000 people protested against the use of Australian troops in the conflict. Although public opposition to the war has fallen to 50 per cent, one Australian Labour Party politician, Lindsay Tanner, accused the Prime Minister, John Howard, of "being a global vigilante, contemptuous of the rule of law and contemptuous of the United Nations".

Cracks appear in peace movement

The anti-war movement has been hit by internal rows between the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) and leaders of the Stop the War Coalition (SWC) over the latter's tactics and policies.

The split emerged late on Friday as the CND unexpectedly issued a formal note of "clarification", stressing its independence from SWC, with which its organised the last three anti-war marches in London. The CND said it had its own leadership and its own "constituency" – a reference to its "middle England" membership which includes ex-military officers, Tory voters and senior religious leaders.

Conversely, SWC officials are closely linked to the Socialist Workers' Party and other Communist organisations, and tensions have arisen between the two groups over SWC's decision to link the marches to the conflict over Palestine.

Since many CND officials insist on being non-party political, chairwoman Carole Naughton is understood to have come under pressure to issue last week's statement.

"[SWC] doesn't come from the same culture as we do," one senior CND figure said. "It was fairly broad but it has narrowed a lot, particularly in recent things."

But senior figures inside SWC have retaliated by pressing for CND to be asked to leave the anti-war movement. "It is our membership which is the biggest, and whatever 'middle England' legitimacy CND brings us, people are mobilising for us now," said one SWC organiser.

In the run-up to February's march – which drew more than one million protesters – CND leaders warned privately they had strong reservations about the Palestine link, but the policy was firmly backed by another march co-organiser, the Muslim Association of Britain.

Tensions came to a head during last Saturday's march in London, when the CND tried to organise a sit-down protest in Whitehall that was largely ignored by marchers as SWC officials appeared to be unaware of CND's plans.

But yesterday John Rees, SWC's chairman, and Ms Naughton insisted there was no split as they shared a platform at an anti-war rally in Birmingham.

"CND people work very closely with the Stop the War Coalition, and we don't see that that is going to change," said Lindsey German, another senior SWC official.