People power takes to the world's streets

It started in New Zealand as 10 000 people marched through Auckland and Wellington, then swept over Asia, Africa and Europe. By last night protesters were also on the move in North and South America as a day of protest not seen since the era of the Vietnam War swept the world.

Millions marched through more than 300 cities in over 60 countries. Their banners displayed common sentiments of blaming America, Britain and the oil industry for planning war.
Some protests were huge, with more than a million people turning out in London and Rome.

In South Africa, thousands of anti-war protesters gathered in the major cities on to protest against the war.

The protesters, who marched on US embassies and consulates in Cape Town, Durban, Bloemfontein and Johannesburg, were taking part in an international campaign against the war.

In Cape Town a crowd of several thousand people took to the streets in a peaceful protest organised by the Anti-War Coalition and its affiliates while in Johannesburg, around 3 000 people chanted outside the United States’ Consul-General’s office in Pritchard Street.

All four protests went through without incident and all dispersed peacefully by Saturday afternoon, police in the different provinces confirmed.

Police representative Director Bala Naidoo said he had had no reports of any violence during the Durban march. Around 5 000 people had taken part in it, he said.

“It went off peacefully,” Naidoo said.

Constable Thandi Mbambo said the Bloemfontein march had also been incident free.

Cape Town’s march saw people from all walks of life, but predominantly Muslim, march together from Keizergracht opposite the Castle of Good Hope to the United States Embassy on the foreshore.

Waving placards and carrying South African, Palestinian, and Iraqi flags, some of them upside down, the crowd made its way down Darling Street and Adderley Street to the Embassy amid tight security and a strong police presence.

Some of the more prominent of Cape Town’s placards bore the slogans “By George, Bush is Just an Empty Warhead”, “Blix Start Searching Israel”, “Let’s Make War Against Poverty”, “Behind Every Bush is a Terrorist”, and “Bush and Blair are Blood Brothers”.

In Johannesburg protesters chanted: “No blood for oil” outside the Consul-General’s offices and held up banners reading, “Bush, declare your weapons of mass destruction”, “Disarm the warmongers too” and “US, UK, Israel—axis of hypocrisy”.

Elsewhere around the world, hundreds of thousands joined in marches in 20 French cities, with the biggest crowd marching to the Place de la Bastille in Paris. In Toulouse, marchers walked in the cold winter sunshine under banners reading, “No blood in the oil”, and “No to war for petrol”.

Tens of thousands also gathered in Berlin. In Italy organisers said more than a million people marched through Rome. Rainbow-coloured peace flags hung from the walls of the Colosseum. The protest was led by Italian cinema heroes Roberto Benigni and Nanni Moretti, left-wing opposition politicians and human rights groups. Flags swayed over silenced crowds as a minute-long air raid siren, a symbolic ‘echo of war’, blasted across Rome at the height of the march.

But in Greece protests turned violent when police fired tear gas and clashed with anarchist protesters who smashed windows and threw a petrol bomb at the offices of an Athens newspaper. There were protests in all European countries, but some had poor turnouts. In Moscow, where the government has taken a strong anti-war line, only 400 protested, marching from Russia’s Foreign Ministry to the US embassy.

An astonishing display of global people power saw similar sentiments echoed from Bulgaria to Japan. “I look at Bush but see Hitler,” proclaimed the banner of a protester in Sofia. Members of the Save Childhood Movement joined demonstrations in the Indian capital Delhi.

Yet the one area of the world that failed to protest was the Middle East and the Gulf. Apart from some peaceful demonstrations in Bahrain and Yemen recently, there have been virtually no marches in the conservative Gulf Arab region, where people need permission to take to the streets.

The relative calm in the region was an irony not lost on some newspaper commentators. In al-Bayan newspaper in the United Arab Emirates, one leader said: “The people of the world and more than one million Europeans demonstrate against an attack on Iraq while the Arab people and their leaders are in a deep coma.” - Staff reporter, Sapa, Guardian Unlimited Â

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