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PEACE GROUPS PRIMED FOR BIG ANTI-WAR PUSH
By Jason Hopps
Reuters / Planet Ark
UK: January 16, 2003
LONDON - In a series of rallies organisers hope will dwarf the widespread
anti-nuclear marches of the 1980s, peace activists are planning to fill
cities across Europe and the United States under a "Don't attack Iraq"
Smaller protests against a second Gulf war - looming larger in recent weeks
as U.S. and British military might builds in the region - are scheduled for
cities in Japan, South Africa, Turkey, Australia and Canada.
D-Day for the peace movement in Europe will be February 15, when
simultaneous protests in several capitals are expected to draw hundreds of
thousands of marchers.
"February 15th is an international day of action...I think we could see
record numbers at the biggest anti-war demonstration London has ever seen,"
said Andrew Burgin, spokesman for Britain's Stop the War Coalition.
"The message is a simple one: no war against Iraq for any reason, whether
the United Nations supports an attack or not," he told Reuters.
On that day, big protests are also planned for Amsterdam, Paris, Berlin,
Madrid and the Swiss capital Berne.
Public opinion in Europe is at best divided over an attack on Iraq and in
most countries - Britain and France included - is against by a wide margin
if an invasion is not supported by the United Nations.
Groups in the Netherlands have collected around 10,000 signatures for a
petition against a war and have delivered it to the prime minister's office
in The Hague.
In France, some 40 groups, including unions, anti-racist organisations and
the Communist and Green political parties, are planning a nationwide peace
protest on January 18 timed to coincide with the anniversary of the start of
the 1991 Gulf War.
In the United States, organisers expect tens of thousands of people at a
January 18 protest in Washington, the third large-scale demonstration in the
U.S. capital since October.
Anti-war organisers and environmental group Greenpeace are hoping for large
turnouts in Tokyo for a January 18 march and in Sydney for a February 16
By contrast, response to a possible attack on Iraq in the conservative Gulf
Arab region has been muted.
There have been virtually no anti-war rallies recently - except for some
peaceful protests in Bahrain and Yemen - in an area where governments and
police keep a tight lid on public demonstrations.
With the net tightening around Saddam Hussein, many anti-war groups believe
bloodshed in Iraq may be imminent, but say the peace movement is not
powerless to rein in a protracted conflict.
Washington has more than doubled its troops in the Gulf region to 150,000
and the top two U.N. inspectors will travel to Baghdad next weekend to
confront Iraqi officials over weapons of mass destruction.
"An attack on Iraq has been inevitable for a long period," said Burgin. "The
question for (British) Prime Minister Tony Blair's government and other
European governments is 'will they survive the growing opposition to the
war?'" he said.
Political analysts say a well-organised peace movement could provide serious
problems for governments - especially Blair's, America's staunchest ally
since the September 11 attacks - where public opinion is stacked against an
attack not sanctioned by the United Nations.
"We already know it's politically dangerous for the Blair government to be
such a strong supporter of the United States and there is clearly some
division at cabinet level," said John Curtice, professor of politics at
"The combination of a war that might not be backed by the U.N. with domestic
public opinion that is opposed means the British government will be under a
very difficult situation if a million people start marching in the streets,"
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