by Haider Rizvi
(IPS) NEW YORK --
than 500,000 people took to the streets here Saturday protesting U.S. plans to invade Iraq.
"No blood for oil. We want peace," roared protesters as they marched in scattered crowds of tens of thousands through streets heavily barricaded by police.
"No war against Iraq. Not in our name," they kept chanting as the crowds streamed to the assembly point outside the United Nations building.
Old New Yorkers say they have never experienced such a massive rally, including during protests against the Vietnam War in the 1970s.
"This is amazing," said 60-year-old Jack Speyer, shivering with cold. "Look at these men and women. It's unbelievable."
The enormous crowd dwarfed the expectations of police and organizers, who had hoped for over 100,000 people. City officials refused to allow a march, but a federal court permitted organizers to hold a stationary rally.
Organizers claimed the demonstration attracted close to one million people.
Police used horses and thousands of barricades to separate demonstrators, many of whom brought young children, into small groups. Several protesters were arrested, but no details are available.
"Is this democracy? Stop it!" an old woman shouted as a police contingent blocked the way and knocked down two demonstrators with their horses.
Police on a high anti-terrorism alert also used hazardous materials decontamination equipment, bomb-sniffing dogs and air-sampling equipment able to detect chemical or biological weapons.
Many protesters played drums, guitars and other musical instruments and danced along the streets. "Make love, not war," read a placard. Hundreds of young people had painted peace signs on their faces.
Three hundred buses and four special trains brought protesters from throughout the country to the nation's largest demonstration, the day after anti-war statements in the United Nations Security Council were applauded by the majority of Council members.
While the United States is pushing for second Council resolution that would authorize military action against Iraq, it has only one staunch ally in the body -- Britain.
UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan told Abu Dhabi television on Saturday that the search for evidence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq should continue. "But if there is no cooperation then the council will see that the operation has become meaningless and that inspections could end."
"The ball is again in the Iraqi leadership's court," Annan said, reported Reuters.
In Canada, protesters hit the streets amid warnings of frostbite and hypothermia, but rallied in larger numbers than for the Jan. 18 worldwide protests.
In east-coast Halifax, more than 2,000 marched, some carrying a huge banner depicting Guernica, Pablo Picasso's famous painting of the bombing of that Spanish city during the Spanish Civil War, now a potent anti-war symbol.
In Montreal, more than 100,000 people, bundled thickly against the biting cold, turned the march along a downtown street into a family affair, as many pushed red-cheeked children in strollers or perched them on their shoulders.
Labor unions, women's groups and anti-capitalist organizations flew banners while others held handmade signs such as 'Drop Bush, Not Bombs' and 'Beating War Drums Drown Out the Voice of Reason'.
Prime Minister Jean Chretien continued to receive rare praise for his Thursday speech in Chicago, where he told the Council on Foreign Relations that, "Not everyone around the world is prepared to take the word of the United States on faith".
Attacking Iraq without UN backing would risk a "clash of civilizations", added Chretien.
In New York, speaker after speaker deplored the administration of President George W. Bush for its disregard for the lives of innocent civilians in Iraq.
"This war is immoral," said South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu. "Those who are going to get killed in Iraq are not collateral damage. They are human beings. They are our brothers and sisters."
"Let America listen to the rest of the world and the rest of the world is saying, 'Give the inspectors time'," the Noble Peace Prize laureate added.
Many speakers condemned Washington's increasing assaults on constitutional rights. "Bush has started an undeclared war on our civil liberties," said Donna Lieberman, a leader of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).
"Our right to dissent has been hijacked by this administration of liars and murderers," added Danny Glover, an African American and popular Hollywood actor. "We stand here against re-colonization."
Student Sara Khan asked protesters to consider why no more money exists for U.S. public schools. "We want to learn," she said. "Spend money on schools, not on war."
"Yeah. Write it down," shouted Jessica, a first year college student from Texas. "We are here to tell students all over the world that we are not silent."
Tehmina Faryal, an Afghan woman, told the rally that war cannot bring democracy to Iraq, "just as it didn't bring democracy to Afghanistan. They changed the regime, not the system."
Organizer United for Peace and Justice, an umbrella group of dozens of anti-war groups, said similar protests took place in more than 100 cities and towns throughout the United States.
February 18, 2003 (http://www.albionmonitor.com) All Rights Reserved. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for permission to use in any format.
All Rights Reserved.
Contact email@example.com for permission to use in any format.