Worldwide peace protests marred by death and violence

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The Independent Online

Protesters against the war in Iraq took to the streets in dozens of cities around the world yesterday.

Protesters against the war in Iraq took to the streets in dozens of cities around the world yesterday.

Spanish riot police in full battle gear fired rubber bullets and charged crowds of anti-war demonstrators in the heart of Madrid last night in an attempt to drive them from the parliament building.

Their action marked the culmination of a rolling protest that swept the city from north to south, seeking vainly to besiege three crucial targets: the United States embassy, the headquarters of the ruling Popular Party and the Congress of Deputies – the focus of a lively demonstration earlier in the day.

Not one building or vehicle seemed damaged in their two-hour progress through the city, but police moved brutally to shift protesters from sensitive targets. Some officers had Franco-era Spanish flags pasted to their pistol butts. For Spaniards, police brutality inevitably recalls the dictatorship. "Freedom of Expression" they shouted, a slogan last heard 25 years ago. Mr Aznar's support for war has aroused old loyalties and old divisions.

Meanwhile, Muslims poured out of Friday prayers in mosques across the Islamic world and shouted their anger at the US-led invasion. The most violent clash was in Sana, the capital of Yemen, where demonstrators exchanged gunfire with riot police. A policeman and a protester aged 11 were killed, and many others were injured.

In Cairo, worshippers streamed out of the al-Azhar mosque after hearing a fiery sermon. At least 5,000 gathered in the street outside, throwing missiles at riot police, who responded with water cannons. In Beirut, youths chanting "Death to America" hurled stones and tried to force their way through to the American embassy, but were driven back by tear gas. In the Jordanian capital, Amman, hundreds of riot police patrolled the streets, enforcing a ban on demonstrations.

In the Bangladeshi capital, Dhaka, up to 15,000 people marched through the city in an ad hoc coalition of Muslims and leftists. At Dhaka's central mosque the head preacher, Obaidul Haq, told his congregation to boycott American products and called on Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states to close the American bases on their territory. "All Muslims must unite to resist the evil forces," he said. Later the marchers chanted "Bush is a war criminal".

In Srinagar, summer capital of Indian-ruled Kashmir, a small but noisy, stone-throwing protest was broken up by soldiers with tear gas. In Pakistan some 10,000 supporters of the religious right took to the streets after prayers in cities across the country. In Peshawar, some marched carrying Kalashnikov rifles.

Clerics in mosques across the Islamic world seized the opportunity to lash America. "There is a larger plan by America to crush Islam," a preacher in Kabul declared. At several mosques in Sana, preachers gave fiery sermons. One accused Washington of trying to seize control "of all that is sacred to Islam".

In the US, the first day of war prompted some of the most widespread protests in years, with almost 2,000 arrests across the country, including 1,300 in San Francisco, where thousands of demonstrators swamped the city streets and paralysed traffic.

The scenes were repeated in cities from Los Angeles to Washington, with students skipping classes to march and some chaining themselves together as they blocked streets.

But the sight of American troops going into action also brought out thousands of counter-demonstrators, waving American flags and chanting slogans such as "God bless our troops" and "Let's roll".

As in recent weeks, however, the biggest demonstrations were seen in European capitals, with more than 150,000 marching to the US embassy in Athens. Though mostly peaceful, a small group threw stones and petrol bombs and were dispersed by riot police with tear gas. "One solution, revolution!" the crowd chanted in Athens, as some of them pelted the embassy with paint and eggs. "Down with the USA," they yelled.

Another 60,000 rallied outside the US consulate in Thessaloniki, and there were many smaller demonstrations across Greece, all aided by a four-hour strike against the war that shut down the whole country. "We are here with our friends to protest against the war in Iraq because children our age are being killed," a schoolgirl, Maria Pardalis, 14, said.

Japan saw its biggest protests yet as thousands marched through central Tokyo denouncing the war and Japan's agreement to provide non-military support for it. Some carried giant paper cranes, the symbol of peace displayed at Hiroshima.

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