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5 Lawmakers Arrested Protesting Darfur Violence

April 29, 2006|Matthew O'Rourke | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — Five members of Congress were among 11 people arrested during a protest Friday outside the Sudanese Embassy, staged at a critical moment to call attention to genocidal violence in the Darfur region.

Rep. Tom Lantos (D-Burlingame), a Holocaust survivor and human rights advocate, was one of the lawmakers who were willingly arrested. Lantos was taken into custody by the U.S. Secret Service along with Democratic Reps. Jim McGovern and John W. Olver of Massachusetts, James P. Moran of Virginia and Sheila Jackson-Lee of Texas. Also arrested were six members of religious and humanitarian aid organizations.

The 11 protesters, who face fines on charges of misdemeanor disorderly conduct and unlawful assembly, were trying to focus attention on the Sudanese government, which they said had not cooperated with international efforts to stop the killing, attacks and rapes in Darfur.

The protest came two days before a crucial deadline in negotiations to halt the violence, in which an estimated 180,000 have died and 2 million have been displaced in the conflict between rebels and government-backed militias.

"Two generations ago, the civilized world stood in silence and looked away," said Lantos, who was imprisoned with his family in Nazi camps during World War II. "Congress stands united in our determination to put an end to this."

Friday's protest foreshadowed rallies across the United States on Sunday that are to feature celebrities, politicians and performing artists in a call for action in Darfur. In advance of those rallies, President Bush met Friday with activists and urged greater involvement by international peacekeeping troops to stop the bloodshed.

"There will be rallies all across the country," Bush said at the White House. "And for those of you who are going out to march for justice, you represent the best of our country. We believe every life is precious, every human being is important. And the signal you send to the world is a strong signal, and I welcome your participation."

About 7,000 African Union peacekeepers have been unable to prevent continuing violence. United Nations officials want to send a force of 20,000 to augment the peacekeepers, but the Sudanese government has not agreed to allow them in. U.S. officials want NATO troops involved in the effort as well.

At Friday's protest at the Embassy, the lawmakers read a list of four demands of the Sudanese government: to issue a cease-fire, to allow United Nations peacekeeping forces to enter the country, to grant full access to humanitarian organizations and to continue peace talks.

The Sudanese government has not taken proper actions to stop the genocide, McGovern said, and nations around the world "must take immediate concrete steps" to prevent more violence.

"We are here today because words are no longer enough," he said. "The world has said, 'Never again.' It is time for action."

Other protesters clapped and shouted as the lawmakers were put in plastic handcuffs and loaded by Secret Service officers into the back of a white police van. Some demonstrators carried pictures portraying the conflict; others held a painted banner with an image of a crying woman and the words "Stop the killing now."

Among the protesters were refugees from Darfur. Samia Eshag, who had arrived from the region 24 hours before the protest, said it was important for her to give voice to the thousands of women who had been raped.

"The civilians in Darfur are suffering day by day, night by night from all of the attacks," she said.

The Save Darfur Coalition, a group of about 100 humanitarian organizations that seeks to raise public awareness of the genocide, organized the event and plans rallies nationally Sunday. The largest rally, to be held on the National Mall, is expected to draw thousands of protesters.

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