One year on, and still the hard core march the world over

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Indy Politics

A year ago Robert Smith shuffled across Waterloo Bridge with his young son on his shoulders, an apolitical banker amazed to find himself marching with a million people to stop the war on Iraq. Yesterday he stayed in Surrey and walked the dog.

From Sydney to Los Angeles, others marked the anniversary of the conflict by turning out to protest against a war that allegedly finished months ago, and call for an end to an occupation that even its instigators wish they could finish. There were demonstrations in more than 300 cities across the world - more even than on the eve of war. But these were nothing like the mass rallies of early 2003.

London was one big protest then, every street in the city centre crammed with people. The invasion went ahead anyway. Yesterday there were just enough to fill Trafalgar Square. Organisers estimated 100,000; the police, 25,000.

The first march of the day had been in Sydney, where 200,000 gathered last year to protest against their government's support for the war. Yesterday only 3,000 rallied behind a caged effigy of their Prime Minister, John Howard. A similar number gathered in Japan, which has troops in Iraq, and 1,500 South Korean students chanted in Seoul. New Zealand, Hong Kong and Thailand also saw protests. Police fired water cannons in the Philippines.

US flags were burnt in India and Egypt. German protesters gathered in Berlin, Frankfurt and outside a US military base near Landstuhl. In Poland 700 people chanted outside the palace of the President, who now says he was "misled" by pre-war intelligence reports on WMD. An effigy of George Bush was torn to pieces in Ukraine, which has troops serving in the Polish-led peacekeeping force in southern Iraq.

Numbers of protesters were down everywhere except Spain, where an anti-war government swept to power last Sunday in the wake of terrorist bombings. Large crowds were expected in Madrid last night.

In London Ann Appleby, a retired 59-year-old nurse from Ealing in west London, said: "I think London is under more of a threat now than when Mr Blair and Mr Bush went to war - they made it a lot worse. I would like to see our troops out of Iraq.''

Bilal Alkhaffaf, a 24-year-old doctor originally from Mosul in Iraq but now living in Manchester, said: "It wouldn't matter if there were 10 or 100,000 or two million people here, because the cause is still as just. Iraq needs to be handed back to the Iraqis.''

James Tweedie, 29, an NHS worker from west London, admitted: "There has been a bit of apathy recently. That is what the Government wants.''

Mr Blair is only too aware that anger and disappointment at the war still run high among many British people. So why were there so few people on the march yesterday? "You're asking for trouble going to the West End," said Robert Smith, who asked for his real name to be withheld. "I keep away from there as much as possible." Madrid had been a reminder of the threat of terrorist attack. He wouldn't choose to take his son to London on a Saturday now. "People at work are the same - afraid. Everyone hurries home after the office."

Andy Barker from Hackney had different reasons for staying away. "What's the point? A million of us turned out to say no to war and were totally ignored." Yesterday Andy went to the football.

Besides the foul weather and the shopping for Mothering Sunday, there was another reason people stayed away, as 21-year-old demonstrator Janie Hughes, from Birmingham, conceded. "I'm sure Tony Blair and George Bush would love to get the hell out of Iraq as soon as possible, with no further loss of British or American life," she said. "We think they should. Now!" And those marching around her cheered.

But it's not as easy as that, as Mr Bush and Mr Blair and many of the former protesters who felt it would not be worth marching yesterday know. The mess has been made. Iraq is still in violent chaos. Stop the war? Everyone agrees on that, from the Pentagon to the plinth beneath Nelson's Column. They just don't know how.

Additional reporting by Jonathan Thompson