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Can global anti-war protesters maintain momentum?
By Andrew Cawthorne
LONDON, March 25 (Reuters) - Since just minutes after the
first strikes on Baghdad, the global anti-war movement has kept
up its own meticulously planned battery of demonstrations.
From Hollywood protests and civil disobedience in San
Francisco, to big rallies round Europe and rowdy demos in
tightly controlled Middle East nations, protesters have made
their presence felt.
But with numbers not as high as many hoped, hostilities
intensifying by the minute in Iraq, and British and U.S. leaders
enjoying a surge in domestic popularity, does the peace movement
risk losing direction?
"It hasn't got a hope in hell of stopping the existing
campaign," UK politics professor John Curtice said. "Has it lost
momentum? Yes. Is it still alive and kicking? Also, yes."
Despite tight controls from governments wary of protesters
turning on them, demonstrations have sprung up across the Arab
world to denounce authorities' logistical support for the war or
lack of specific solidarity with fellow Muslim nation Iraq.
"To call Bush a pig is injustice to pigs," said computer
engineer Rami Haddad, amid angry protests in Syria where the
U.S. star-spangled banner and Israeli flags were burned in rage.
Egyptian protesters, increasingly muted by an official
crackdown including water cannon, baton tactics and alleged
"vicious beatings" from police, nevertheless plan more. And in
Iran, where anti-war protests were noticeably absent in the
run-up to war, a state-sponsored rally was announced for Friday.
"Despite their strong opposition to the Iraqi Ba'ath regime,
Iran's Muslim and revolutionary nation cannot condone the brutal
killing of the Muslim people of a neighbouring country," protest
organiser, the Islamic Propaganda Organisation, said.
Big anti-war movements in the two nations behind the
military attacks, the United States and U.K., have kept pressure
up on President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair.
But a weekend London rally drew barely a quarter of the
roughly million who turned out in mid-February.
"SHAME ON YOU, MR. BUSH!"
"This was our hardest weekend: the war had started, people
want to give the government the benefit of the doubt, a number
of people don't want to criticise the troops, yet they still
turned out," Lindsey German, national convenor for the Stop the
War Coalition, told Reuters.
In the United States, liberal California is the hotspot.
Film-maker Michael Moore drew a mixture of boos and applause
as he shouted "Mr. Bush...Shame on you" at the Oscars. In San
Francisco, more than 2,000 protesters were arrested after the
war started, though protest numbers have dropped since.
With patriotism as high as ever in the United States, and
Bush's approval rating, like Blair's, rising, opponents stress
they are not against troops but an "unjust war."
Some believe Britons' and Americans' rallying behind their
leaders may wane if the conflict becomes messier than expected.
"If this war drags on and it becomes clear...the Iraqi
people do not see coalition forces as liberators, then I think
we'll see a hardening of resolve in anti-war movements all over
the world and a steep decline in the popularity of the men
prosecuting this war," UK radical writer George Monbiot said.
As the peace movement has failed to stop the war, its aims
have widened to influencing public opinion, pressuring
governments, ensuring as short a war as possible and preparing
to halt the next conflict, which many fear will be North Korea.
"Despite the feeling of impotence in front of the great
powers...we want to make it more difficult for the war and the
massacre to continue, even if we are just a grain of sand
temporarily disrupting a large machine," one Italian activist
leader, Luca Casarini, told Reuters.
Showing the appetite for anti-war protests in Europe,
Italian activists, including a group called the "Disobedients",
have been throwing cities into chaos. Protests have drawn crowds
of up 100,000 and in one case disrupted a market providing fruit
and vegetables to U.S. soldiers in Italy.
Elsewhere around the world, numbers were fluctuating, but
protests were still going on.
The dilemma for activists was how to vary tactics.
"What is going to be difficult is to stay mobilised three
times a week, simply because it's tiring," said Arielle Denis,
joint president of France's Peace Movement. "The indignation and
anger remain very strong.
In South Africa, whose government has taken an outspoken
anti-war position, the anti-war campaign has fizzled to a few
evening vigils outside the U.S. embassy in Pretoria.
"Here it is quite difficult to mobilise people around what
is essentially a foreign issue. I'm convinced that the majority
of people are against the war, but it's difficult to mobilise
them," said Mike Sachs of the Stop The War Campaign.
-- Additional reporting from Reuters' bureaux worldwide
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