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SHOWDOWN WITH IRAQ

Marchers Protest in L.A., San Francisco

Antiwar rallies draw thousands as groups ranging from students to the 'Raging Grannies' hit the streets. Jesse Jackson speaks in L.A.

March 16, 2003|Daren Briscoe, Chris O'Connell and Imran Vittachi | Special to The Times

Rain pelted thousands of Los Angeles antiwar protesters who donned ponchos and huddled beneath umbrellas Saturday as they chanted slogans during a march through downtown, while thousands more in San Francisco rallied at their civic center beneath sunny skies.

The L.A. protesters made for a colorful display as many painted their umbrellas with circular peace signs. Labor union members, students, nurses and grandmothers walked in groups in both cities, where they combined full-throated slogan-shouting with street theater, drums, horns and a bagpipe.

One L.A. protester wore an 8-foot-high plastic replica of an oil derrick and a profusion of signs disparaging the Bush administration. A group of San Francisco women who called themselves "Peninsula Raging Grannies" wore flower-festooned hats, boas and costume jewelry.

But others spoke in somber tones about their increasing uneasiness, even fear, about the prospect of U.S. war with Iraq.

"I think this war is going to make terrorism grow like dragons' teeth," said Georgiana Coughlan, 61, of Gardena, who walked the 1 1/2-mile route with a bad knee. "I'm here as a patriot and feel that it is my duty to oppose this war."

As he marched through downtown Los Angeles, Wes White, 53, said he supported the Gulf War, but that this time he thinks, "If we invade Iraq now, we give up our position as moral leader of the free world."

Warren Langley, a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel and former president of the Pacific Stock Exchange in San Francisco, said he understands that Saddam Hussein is "terrible and a threat to people

"Preemptively invading any country is wrong," said Langley, who returned to protest a day after he was arrested for civil disobedience during a demonstration Friday.

At the end of the San Francisco rally at Jefferson Square Park, a group of about 300 protesters, many clad in black, broke off from the designated route and marched about 10 blocks toward Union Square, where about 150 were arrested for illegal assembly and failing to disperse after a police order.

Demonstrators whistled at police and taunted them with chants of "fajita eaters," a wry reference to the city's ongoing police scandal that started when three off-duty police officers allegedly beat a man after demanding that he give them his bag of steak fajitas.

In Los Angeles, three marchers were arrested.

Police in both cities declined to estimate the size of the crowds, which were organized by several antiwar coalitions, including International Answer.

"It is what it is, and there's no way to tell exactly," said Sgt. John Pasquariello of the Los Angeles Police Department. "It's not an issue for us."

Organizers in San Francisco estimated the crowd at 100,000. In Los Angeles, they said 50,000.

After marching from Olympic Boulevard and Broadway to the Federal Building in downtown L.A., the demonstrators cheered strongly worded antiwar speeches by the Rev. Jesse Jackson and Vietnam War veteran and peace activist Ron Kovic.

"We deserve competent leaders and coherent foreign policy, and we have neither," Jackson told the crowd. "If we attack Iraq preemptively, those who execute the war must be seen as criminals of war."

*

Times staff writers Briscoe and Stephanie Chavez reported from Los Angeles and correspondents O'Connell and Vittachi reported from San Francisco.

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