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The day the world said no to war on Iraq

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Issue 1839
The protest in Rome

The protest in Rome

It was the day the world said no to Bush’s war. Demonstrations took place in over 600 cities and towns. The numbers of demonstrators far surpassed the most optimistic forecasts of ten million. In some countries people marched in their millions or hundreds of thousands.

In others they defied ruthless regimes, all backed by the US, to take to the streets. It wasn’t only in Britain that records were broken. There were huge demonstrations across Europe. Spain saw the biggest demonstrations in its history. Norway’s capital, Oslo, had its biggest ever demonstration. Marchers in Australia numbered nearly a million for the first time.

Over half a million people marched in France. There were demonstrations in 80 different cities, the biggest of which was the 200,000-strong march in Paris. There were demonstrations tens of thousands strong in the Danish capital, Copenhagen, in Stockholm and Gothenburg in Sweden, and in the Swiss capital, Berne.

There were demonstrations across Eastern Europe, where governments are defying most of their populations to support Blair and Bush. Thousands marched in Poland, Bulgaria, Croatia, Hungary and Slovakia. Smaller protests took place in Russia, Ukraine and other areas of the former USSR. In India over 10,000 people protested in Calcutta.

In the Far East there were protests in the Philippines, Thailand, Malaysia, South Korea and Japan.

Joyous unity

Protests against the war brought people together across entrenched divides in some countries. In Belfast Catholics and Protestants marched together. In Cyprus a protest at a British military base was supported by people from both Turkish and Greek communities.

Axis under pressure

The biggest demonstrations took place in the very countries whose governments George Bush is relying on to back war. Spain’s Jose Maria Aznar and Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi are the two Western European leaders who have united with Blair to back Bush’s war.

Blair, Aznar and Berlusconi have been nicknamed the BAB axis. They are for war, and for privatisation and neo-liberal policies across Europe. Aznar cooked up the statement earlier this month which all three leaders used to try to rally the rest of Europe behind Bush. The big majority of people in Britain, Spain and Italy are against war. The demonstrations on Saturday show the potential to drive the warmongers out of office in each country.

Over 80 percent of the population in Turkey, a key launching pad for an invasion of Iraq, say no to war. There were huge demonstrations in Germany and France. That has put more pressure on those two governments not to fall in behind Bush by voting for a pro-war resolution in the United Nations Security Council.

After last weekend no government can ignore the global anti-war revolt that will intensify if Bush attacks Iraq.

Middle East is raging

Tony Blair likes to quip that while people are allowed to protest in Britain, in Iraq opposition is brutally crushed. His fake concern for democracy does not extend to the pro-Western dictatorships elsewhere in the Middle East.

Ten Egyptian anti-war activists are in prison, held under a law that allows for indefinite detention without trial or even being charged. All have been tortured.

Police broke up an attempted anti-war march last Saturday. Activists fear the beginning of a clampdown in preparation for the war. But state savagery cannot hide the boiling anger across the Middle East at Bush, and at Israel’s attacks on the Palestinians.

People defied security forces to demonstrate in the Gulf state of Bahrain. A huge demonstration swept through Beirut, Lebanon, uniting ethnic and religious groups.

Some 80,000 people joined a demonstration in Damascus, Syria. The regime said it supported the march, but many of those taking part want change in Syria too.

Register solidarity urgently with Egyptian activists. Phone 07986 220 641 or e-mail [email protected]

Protests in Bush’s back yard

Just two weeks ago there were no plans to hold a demonstration in Uruguay on 15 February. After the Porto Alegre World Social Forum the small group around Globalise Resistance Uruguay decided to call for a demonstration against the war.

On Saturday some 50,000 marched through the capital city of Montevideo. This is in a country whose population is just a little over three million! Elsewhere in Latin America, a continent on the sharp end of the neo-liberal policies championed by the US, there were massive anti-war protests. In Mexico City up to 50,000 people marched. Protests also took place in smaller cities such as San Cristobal, Monterrey and Veracruz.

In the Venezuelan capital, Caracas, up to 5,000 people joined an anti-war march. In Chile, a member of the UN Security Council, 3,000 people marched to the presidential palace in the capital, Santiago.

In Brazil 30,000 people marched in Sao Paulo and 15,000 in Rio de Janeiro. MAS (Movement Towards Socialism) reports from Buenos Aires in Argentina, just across the River Plata from Montevideo, ‘People braved a violent storm to take part in a 30,000-strong demonstration that stretched over a kilometre through the streets of Buenos Aires.

‘We marched behind the slogan ‘No to the imperialist war against Iraq’. This is the biggest demonstration on an international issue the city has seen since the 1973 coup in Chile. Taking part were the ‘Mothers and Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo’ [relatives of those murdered during the 1970s military dictatorship], various trade unions, students, Arab and Islamic organisations, people from the popular assemblies, workers from occupied factories, and people from the unemployed ‘piqueteros’ organisations.’

Coordinating global movements

Most of the world’s media is mystified at the scale and coordination of last Saturday’s protests. They tapped mass popular opposition to the war, but the 600 protests did not take place by chance. ‘We first raised the idea of international action in the wake of the 400,000-strong anti-war demonstration in Britain on 28 September,’ says Chris Nineham of the anti-capitalist group Globalise Resistance.

He is also part of the coordination of the European Social Forum, which brought together anti-capitalists and other groups at the huge event in Florence, Italy, in November.

‘We brought the idea up at one of the planning meetings for Florence,’ says Chris. ‘There was considerable controversy. Some delegates were worried it would alienate the mainstream of the movement. We, alongside the Italian delegates, had to put up a strong fight to get it accepted. But at the forum itself opposition to the war had mass appeal. It was the main theme of the closing activists’ meeting, which issued the call for 15 February. European delegates raised the idea at the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, Brazil, last month. We organised an anti-war assembly and nearly 1,000 people came along. It was from that that the protest on 15 February turned global.’ There are sure to be further debates about how to take the movement to stop the war forward.

In Greece and Germany, for example, leading figures from the governing parties joined the protests. But they hope to curtail the anti-war demonstrations if their countries’ leaders end up reluctantly backing Bush through the United Nations. In France there are differences of opinion over the way forward for the anti-war movement.

Some put faith in President Chirac to stop the war through the UN. Others rightly see that the movement on the streets is crucial and must be built stronger. The international movement is growing, and becoming more radical and coordinated.

There will be a global anti-war coordinating meeting in London on 1 March.

South Africa

‘Under the banner of the Anti-War Coalition, 20,000 people took to the streets of Johannesburg in South Africa on Saturday singing, toyi-toying and chanting with a single message: ‘No to war against Iraq!’ We marched to the offices of the US consulate-general where speakers addressed the crowd.

They attacked Bush and Blair, and also criticised the South African government for allowing US and UK warships on their way to Iraq to dock in Durban harbour. On Saturday thousands also demonstrated in Cape Town and in Durban.’

Anti-War Coalition, South Africa


‘Over 100,000 people marched in Amsterdam in Holland on Saturday. There was a real festival atmosphere, but also real anger. The Dutch government supports Bush, though there is a majority against war. It was the most internationalist demonstration ever in Holland. The rally started with a special welcome to both Iraqi refugees and to American activists.’
Pepijn Brandon, Holland


‘ABOUT 60,000 people demonstrated in Budapest in Hungary against war on Saturday. The slogans were ‘No to the war! Another world is possible!’ On the day of the demonstration the Hungarian authorities were asked by the US to put railway lines and highways at the disposal of US military transports. The Civilians for Peace movement has asked the government to reject this request. We also demand the national assembly vote name by name to see who is for war.’

Civilians for Peace, Hungary


‘One of the earliest of the many Australian anti-war rallies taking place last weekend occurred in Bellingen in New South Wales. An estimated 2,500 people attended the rally at the town’s sports ground, where they were entertained by The Bushbombs, an a capella group of singers who sang original songs as well as a traditional welcome tune from Nigeria.

Bellingen, a small rural community, nestles in a valley about 15 kilometres from the Pacific Ocean. About 2,600 people live in the township of Bellingen., itself. So the rally was about as large as the town in terms of population!
Pip Wilson


‘From Quebec City to Vancouver, Ajax to Whitby, ordinary Canadians in their tens of thousands took to the streets to say ‘No to war’. Over 300,000 people marched in all.

Montreal and Toronto, Canada’s two biggest cities, hosted the largest protests, with 150,000 taking to the streets in Montreal and 80,000 in Toronto. On the Pacific coast 40,000 marched in Vancouver and 8,000 in Victoria. On the Atlantic coast 4,000 marched in Halifax. In all over 70 cities held protests, most in temperatures of minus 35C.

Canada’s Labour Party, the NDP, has shifted under the pressure of the anti-war movement, and now says it opposes war with or without the UN. The movement is also moving the government.

Liberal Party prime minister Jean Chretien had been preparing Canada’s military to support war in Iraq. Suddenly he shifted and lectured the US about the dangers of unilateral war. Now students plan an anti-war strike on 5 March, and action is planned everywhere if war starts.’
Michelle Robidoux, Canada


‘The march set off two hours early. An hour before the start time the square at the end of the march was already full. It holds a million people. There were 30 specially chartered trains to get people to Rome. The whole of the city felt like one big demonstration. Who knows how many marched? It’s impossible to tell when it’s over three million.

The march drew in far wider forces than the left. There is already talk of what to do now. Radical union groups have called for strikes if war breaks out. There is pressure on the equivalent of the TUC to call something. It’s a real possibility.’
Tom Behan, Rome


‘The anti-war rally in Athens was huge, with up to 300,000 taking part. Speakers at a rally all attacked the aggression against Iraq and demanded that the Greek government stopped giving any support to the war. After the concert and speeches we marched to the US embassy.

The demonstration was lively, with chants, bands, slogans and hundreds of banners. Older demonstrators said, ‘It is like the 1970s’ – the period after the collapse of the military junta. We all felt very powerful.’
SEK (Socialist Workers Party), Greece

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