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Protesters Planning Weekend Rallies Across U.S. to Oppose War With Iraq

January 18, 2003|From Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Fearing war could start in weeks, protesters are massing in Washington and other cities around the country to press for a peaceful way out of the crisis with Iraq.

The weekend demonstrations coincide with America's military buildup in the Persian Gulf region and a time of remembrance for the nonviolent struggle embodied by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Even as U.S. military personnel ship out, protesters are packing Washington-bound buses and organizing marches and vigils from Tampa, Fla., to San Francisco.

"We are attacking a poor country that has enough problems," said Al Svitesic, a retired pile driver and World War II veteran who will be rallying in Pittsburgh next week. "It is unjust."

The largest crowds are expected in the nation's capital, where President Bush and many in Congress are united on the move toward war and protest leaders hope they can draw tens of thousands, at least, to march in dissent.

White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer said Bush will be at his Camp David presidential retreat over the weekend, but has no problem with the protests.

"The president welcomes the fact that we are a democracy and that people in the United States, unlike Iraq, are free" to protest, he said. "The fact of the matter is the people who support the president are not going to take the streets." Police said Friday they will be ready for trouble but don't expect much. They've been in close touch with demonstrators.

"They say it's going to be peaceful and our hopes and goals are not to make arrests," said Sgt. Joe Gentile, speaking for police. "We've met with the organizers. They don't plan any [violence]."

Civil disobedience was pledged by other demonstrators in a smaller rally planned Sunday outside the White House. Gentile said a "few arrests" were likely in that event.

The organization International Answer planned the rally Saturday in Washington and one in San Francisco, exhorting war opponents everywhere to "stop the Bush administration from threatening and killing the people of the world who are not our enemy."

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