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Around the World, Crowds Protest Prospect of Iraq War

January 19, 2003|Sebastian Rotella | Times Staff Writer

PARIS -- Antiwar demonstrators turned out across the globe Saturday to protest a U.S. military buildup in the Middle East widely seen as a prelude to an invasion of Iraq.

Thousands marched in Europe, the Middle East and Asia to denounce the prospect of war. They heaped abuse on the Bush administration, voicing the anti-American sentiment that has been ignited by the Iraq issue.

Tens of thousands rallied in Washington, San Francisco and other U.S. cities.

In Germany, a protester wore a sign branding President Bush a terrorist, a refrain repeated throughout the day and around the world. A banner outside the U.S. Embassy in Moscow declared: "Iraq isn't your ranch, Mr. Bush."

In Baghdad, state-run TV broadcast a recording of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein praising the demonstrations during a meeting with senior military officers.

"They are supporting you because they know that evildoers target Iraq to silence any dissenting voice to their evil and destructive policies," he said. "Iraq's cause has become clear.... It simply is that Iraqis are in their country while others cross the seas to reach them and tell them, 'We want to share with you your country or we want to be the masters and you the followers.' "

The crowds had a cheerful air in nations such as Japan, where about 4,000 marchers in Tokyo's Ginza shopping district included students who wore Bush masks and playfully pulled the triggers of toy guns. The mood in the Middle East, however, was darker and not necessarily pacifist. In Damascus, Syria, there were shouts of "Our beloved Saddam, strike Tel Aviv!"

A crowd in Cairo estimated at between several hundred and 1,000 gathered in a square outside Sayeda Zeinab Mosque in a working-class area.

"The Egyptian street has to be mobilized because the war is going to happen whether we like it or not," said Mohammed Waked, 32, one of several protesters who said they were roughed up by police. "I was there because I refuse to stay quiet about what America is doing. What is happening in Iraq isn't just against Iraqis -- it's against all of us."

Egypt is one of the strongest U.S. allies in the region. But the demonstration, like the public psyche in Egypt, blended anger toward America's threat to Iraq with the hostility Egyptians generally feel for U.S. support of Israel in its conflict with the Palestinians. Both cases are seen in the Middle East as proof of an anti-Arab bias.

Marches in France, Britain, Germany, Sweden and Italy reflected profound resentment of U.S. muscle-flexing. The ideological chasm between Europe and the U.S. has widened considerably as many Europeans accuse Washington of embarking on a cynical war intended to ensure U.S. access to oil.

About 6,000 people marched in Paris, in the biggest of the protests in 50 French cities. France is one of the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and is pushing hard for the United Nations to give arms inspectors in Iraq more time to do their job. Although President Jacques Chirac has said his nation would participate in a military operation approved by the U.N., polls show that most French voters oppose a war under any scenario.

The worldwide rallies were not massive. And the participants tended to be leftists, nationalists, trade union members and other traditional critics of the United States. But just as a possible Iraq war has stirred opposition in unlikely sectors of the U.S. public, such as World War II veterans, the international antiwar camp has attracted unexpected activists as well.

A case in point: John le Carre, the venerable British author of espionage novels. The French newspaper Le Monde published a front-page essay Saturday in which Le Carre delivered a scornful assault on Bush. He said the U.S. administration's policies are "madness" on a scale surpassing McCarthyism and the Vietnam War.

The novelist condemned the U.S. president as a warmonger who has used the specter of terrorism to weaken civil liberties while favoring the rich and oil interests. He accused Bush of manipulating public opinion to back his campaign against Iraq with the false assertion that Hussein was linked to the Sept. 11 attacks.

"That Bush and his clique have succeeded in shifting the rage of Americans from Osama bin Laden to Saddam Hussein constitutes one of the slickest tricks in the history of communication," Le Carre wrote. "According to a recent poll, one out of two Americans today holds Saddam Hussein responsible for the attack against the World Trade Center. Thus manipulated, and also threatened, intimidated, harassed and maintained in a permanent state of ignorance and fear, the American population submits to the authorities."

It was unclear which poll Le Carre was referring to.

*

Times staff writers David Holley in Moscow and Michael Slackman in Cairo, along with Jailan Zayan of The Times' Cairo Bureau, contributed to this report.

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