Thousands of activists from across the globe opened the World Social Forum on Tuesday, marching through Venezuela's capital shouting anti-war slogans and accusing US President George W. Bush of pushing "imperialist" policies on developing countries.
Waving banners and chanting "No to war, peace is possible," throngs of spirited protesters danced to drum beats and demanded an end to the war in Iraq. Roughly 80,000 people signed up to attend the forum, including tens of thousands from outside Venezuela, organizers said.
"Bush invades countries like Iraq and Afghanistan, takes control of their natural resources and bleeds them dry," said Candido Gil, a 57-year-old member of Brazil's Communist Party.
"That's unacceptable," he said.
Crowds flocked to a stage on the outskirts of a Caracas military base to for a speech by American peace activist Cindy Sheehan, whose son was killed in Iraq.
"We need to bring our troops home immediately," Sheehan told the crowd to a rousing applause. "We need to hold someone responsible for all the death and destruction in the world. We need to see George Bush and the rest of them tried for crimes against humanity."
Sheehan, a 48-year-old from Berkeley, California, gained international attention when she set up a protest camp near Bush's ranch in Texas last year.
Many of the activists lauded the "revolution" led by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, while others called attention to global issues including air pollution, poverty and racism.
Juergen Schmidt, a 22-year-old German, twisted a few of his dangling dreadlocks while handing out pamphlets entitled Green Tomorrow.
"The human race is threatened by the effects of global warming and if action isn't taken soon it could be too late," Schmidt said.