Weekend anti-occupation protests decry lies

WE WERE RIGHT: Fourty-five-year-old protester Peter Mason said that millions of people who actively opposed the war were right that governments hid the truth from them

REUTERS , LONDON

Mon, Sep 29, 2003 - Page 6

Tens of thousands of anti-war protesters staged demonstrations around the world on Saturday venting their anger at the US-led invasion of Iraq and calling for an end to the occupation.

Chanting "Troops out of Iraq and Blair out of Number 10," protesters in London demonstrated against Britain's continued military involvement.

Coordinated protests were held across western Europe and in Turkey and South Korea, but were only a faint shadow of huge pre-war peace rallies.

In Britain, Washington's main ally in the war, police said some 20,000 people marched in London in the first major protest there since the war ended in April.

The march added to pressure on Prime Minister Tony Blair, whose popularity and trust ratings have sunk in the aftermath of the Iraq conflict.

The failure to unearth any weapons of mass destruction -- the main justification for war -- and the public inquiry into the suicide of a government expert on Iraq have plunged Blair into the worst political crisis of his six-year tenure.

"It was all lies," protester Peter Mason, 45, said. "The millions who demonstrated before the war were right."

In February, around a million people marched through London trying to prevent the war in the biggest political protest march in British history.

Organizers of Saturday's protest plan more rallies when US President George W. Bush visits Britain in November.

London Mayor Ken Livingstone told a packed Trafalgar Square the way to secure peace in the Middle East was to "Get out, get out, get out."

In the Spanish capital Madrid thousands protested against Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar's support for the war.

Although Spain did not send any troops to fight, Aznar gave Bush strong political backing during the conflict.

"The British have no shame, the Americans less and the Spanish puppet still less," said 68-year-old Gregorio Diaz.

Marching behind a banner calling for the withdrawal of 1,300 Spanish soldiers sent to help keep the peace in post-war Iraq, the crowd chanted: "No to war" and "Bush, Aznar out of Iraq."

Police estimated the crowd at around 7,000 people -- far fewer than the hundreds of thousands who protested in Spain before and during the war.

In Seoul, more than 2,000 people protested in the largest rally yet against a US request for South Korean combat troops for Iraq.

They ranged from elderly women to young children, Buddhist monks to Catholics and gay rights activists to film stars.

In Muslim Turkey, around 5,000 people demonstrated in Istanbul and the capital Ankara against sending peacekeepers to neighboring Iraq and in support of the Palestinians.

Witnesses said at least one person was detained in Istanbul where the crowd burned US and Israeli flags.

In France, one of the fiercest opponents of the war, police said some 3,000 people turned up.

About 2,000 gathered in the Greek capital Athens, carrying placards such as "Stop imperialist intervention" and "Occupiers out of Iraq," and about 200 in Vienna.

In Berlin, police said about 400 people turned up near the Reichstag parliament building.

"We shouldn't help the Americans with money for reconstruction when they bombed Iraq," said Carlotta Wendt, 14.

Daniel Compart, a 19-year-old apprentice at a petrol station, painted his hands red to symbolize the blood he said was on US hands over Iraq.

"It is important that ordinary people still say they are against the war even though it is over," he said.