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Antiwar Activists March in Italy

November 10, 2002|David Holley and Maria De Cristofaro | Times Staff Writers

ROME — Hundreds of thousands of activists from across Europe marched peacefully through Florence, Italy, on Saturday in a long-planned anti-globalization protest that became a festive rally against a possible U.S.-led war on Iraq.

Headed by a banner proclaiming "No War," the march came a day after the U.N. Security Council voted unanimously to give Iraq "a final opportunity" to rid itself of weapons of mass destruction or face "serious consequences." Police estimated the crowd at 450,000. Many of the participants came on chartered buses and special trains.

The march was the focal point of a five-day gathering of activists who argue that global trade and international corporations work against the welfare of the world's poor and the Earth's environment. Although sentiment against an Iraq war was already high, it was the timing of the Security Council's action that turned the march into an antiwar rally. Many protesters said that Washington's real goal in Iraq is to control its oil.

"Stop Global War," "Take Your War and Go to Hell," "Drop Bush, Not Bombs" and "Thank You, Florence" were among the sentiments displayed on posters and banners in various languages. Some depicted President Bush as Hitler and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi as Mussolini.

Many shop owners had shuttered their doors and windows in fear of violence, but some residents along the route offered glasses of water to the marchers and cheered them on.

Marchers ranged from veteran activists to first-time protesters. There were pensioners, middle-aged homemakers, members of Roman Catholic youth groups, representatives of unions and political parties, street entertainers and plenty of young people out for fun.

Some youths sported hair dyed pink or other bright colors, and some protesters were dressed as clowns or chose to skate the 4-mile route along the Arno River. Marchers sang Communist anthems and 1970s peace songs and shouted "Hands off the Middle East!" and "The real terrorist is the West!"

The prominent French farm activist Jose Bove showed up on a tractor.

"We are against a preventive war, against the Bush administration, and we will do everything we can to prevent a new war and military intervention in Iraq," said Vannino Chiti, a coordinator for participants from the Democrats of the Left, the country's largest opposition party.

Sergio Cofferati, a former head of CGIL, Italy's biggest trade union, told reporters that politicians must pay more attention to what the anti-globalization movement is saying.

"An equal relationship based on mutual respect is required with these movements," said Cofferati, viewed by many as a potential future leader of the center-left in Italy. "Political forces and especially the left would be making a mistake if they failed to listen."

Marchers touched on a host of issues. A middle-aged man told state-run television: "We are workers from Fiat. We came because we think Fiat is a typical example of a multinational, which is going to colonize other countries -- workers from India, China, Turkey and South America -- but will at the end be eaten up by General Motors."

Saturday's gathering was billed as the first European Social Forum, a regional branch of the World Social Forum, which meets annually in Porto Alegre, Brazil.

Berlusconi had said it was "risky" to allow the event to take place in art-rich Florence. But his government eventually approved, and the country tightened border controls in an effort to keep out individual protesters identified by authorities as potentially violent.

Thousands of police were on duty for the march but kept a low profile. Organizers had agreed to a route that avoided the historic center of the Renaissance city filled with cultural treasures.

Italian authorities had feared a repeat of the violent demonstrations that marred a Group of 8 summit in the northwestern city of Genoa last year.

*

Holley reported from Moscow and De Cristofaro from Rome.

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