Washington shrugs off war protests
By Joshua Levitt in Madrid and Edward Alden in Washington
Published: February 16 2003 22:09 | Last Updated: February 16 2003 22:09
Millions of protesters rallied at the weekend in Europe, Asia and the US to oppose American plans to attack Iraq, in the largest anti-war demonstrations since the Vietnam war era. The rallies brought out more than 2m people in Italy and 2m in Spain, with similarly large turnouts in the UK, Germany and France.
But US officials on Sunday dismissed the growing popular opposition, insisting that the administration of President George W.Bush would continue to prepare for war with Iraq in the coming weeks.
Condoleezza Rice, the president's national security adviser, said the demonstrations would not alter US determination to confront Saddam Hussein and help the Iraqi people, either with broad international support or with a narrower "coalition of the willing".
She acknowledged the right of the protesters to oppose US plans, but said on Fox News: "They're not saying what they think in Baghdad, because that's a regime that cuts people's tongues out if they say what they think."
John McCain, the Republican senator, called the protesters "unwise and foolish," equating them with what he said were similarly wrong-headed protests in the 1980s against the deployment of US nuclear missiles to Europe.
While organisers and police differed on the size of the turnouts, the protests were clearly the largest in a generation in Europe, and perhaps the largest in history.
London police said that 750,000 people - organisers said 2m - marched on Saturday. Calls to avoid a war in Iraq were mixed with slurs against Tony Blair, UK prime minister, who has become President Bush's closest European ally.
Protesters in Italy and Spain called for the resignations of Silvio Berlusconi and José María Aznar, their respective prime ministers, who have also sided with the US against calls for further diplomatic efforts by France and Germany.
More than 2m people were estimated to have marched in Rome. The response in Madrid and Barcelona was even more overwhelming, as an estimated 1.9m people marched through Spain's two largest cities.
The protest was the largest in Barcelona's history, while the turnout in Madrid was the greatest for any demonstration led by the opposition.
Saturday's demonstrations, which at times seemed more like street parties than political rallies, were backed by virtually every organisation outside of Mr Aznar's Popular party.
Protesters also marched - albeit in smaller numbers - in France and Germany. Several hundred thousand people demonstrated in Paris and more than half a million took to the streets of Berlin, despite light snow and freezing temperatures.
The protest in Berlin was the single largest such gathering in Germany since the creation of the Federal Republic more than 50 years ago.
Demonstrators far outnumbered the 250,000 pacifists who marched through Bonn in the early 1980s to protest against the deployment of US nuclear missiles on German soil.
In Australia, three days of anti-war rallies in Australia culminated yesterday when some 200,000 demonstrators marched through central Sydney in the biggest protest of its kind that the country has seen since the Vietnam era.
In total, more than half a million people, far more than expected, joined rallies across Australia over the weekend, starting in Melbourne on Friday night.
In several Muslim countries, too, protesters marched against their government's support for the US as well as a war in Iraq.
Protesters came out in Karachi, Pakistan's largest city, Lahore, the second largest city, and Rawalpindi - the home of General Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan's military ruler and Washington's close ally in the fight against terror.