by Akhilesh Upadhyay
(IPS) NEW YORK --
of thousands of demonstrators across the United States and beyond rallied against the U.S.-led attack on Baghdad on Saturday, March 22, the first weekend since troops began bombing Iraq on Wednesday in sharp defiance of the United Nations call for diplomacy to disarm Iraq.
Millions others remained fixated on their television sets watching in horror images of fire-lit mushrooming clouds and flying debris over Baghdad.
Though a 'New York Times'-CBS News poll taken a day after the first military strike showed a growing number of people here supported President George W. Bush's war on Iraq, organizers of protesters that erupted hours after the first bombs crashed into Baghdad warned that a sizeable population opposes war and suggested that public opinion could quickly turn, in the case of civilian deaths or high troop casualties, for instance.
They noted that while it took years for anti-war protesters to organize against the Vietnam War, the current action faced public opposition even before it started.
"I haven't seen anything like this in my lifetime," said Bill Dobbs of United for Peace and Justice, organizers of Saturday's protest here and one on Feb. 15 that drew more than 100,000 people. "(But) our demonstration is not against the troops. It's the Bush administration that we are differing with," he added.
The anti-war feeling is very broad, informed by a strong belief that Bush never made a strong case for war, he added. "There are a huge number of questions. You can sense that the people are angry by the questions raised by reporters to (White House Press Secretary) Ari Fleischer."
In Washington, Fleischer found himself on the receiving end of angry reporters' Friday when he said he was not sure if Bush had seen the prolonged televised aerial bombardments of Baghdad. Journalists also asked the spokesman to weigh the cost of potential civilian deaths in Iraq.
Like Dobbs, most protesters take great pains to stress that their anger is not directed at the troops fighting in the Persian Gulf but at Bush, who ordered the war without giving diplomacy an adequate opportunity. They have also called on the police to go easy on demonstrators.
By late Friday afternoon, more than 2,000 people had been arrested across the United States after protests that included demonstrators setting fire to bales of hay and smashing windows of police vehicles, in contrast to the huge protests leading up to the attack when few people were detained.
The highest numbers were detained in San Francisco, the epi-center of the 1960s civil rights movement, where one protester killed himself by jumping from the famed Golden Gate Bridge to frigid waters below. Other major demonstrations took place in Chicago, Washington, Boston, Baltimore, Seattle, and Minneapolis.
In Canada, police used electric-shock batons to subdue activists in east-coast Halifax, where 11 were arrested after a sit-down protest blocked a major traffic intersection.
In New York, tens of thousands took to the street in mild weather Saturday, holding blue United Nations flags, peace signs, and placards with such messages as 'No To War' 'Lies' and 'No War for Oil'.
"I was just struck by the diversity of protestors," says Eva Sanchez, a New York University graduate. "I thought it was very important to be there and tell the government, 'I don't agree with you.' I saw so many Americans, young and old, of different ethnic groups, of different backgrounds, discussing war, proud and gentle, but angry against their government."
One high-profile event that looks set to lose some of its glitz is Sunday's annual Academy Awards ceremony to honor Hollywood's film industry. Actor Will Smith has already withdrawn and others have said that they will stick pieces of duct tape on their clothing in a symbolic protest against the Bush administration, which has asked citizens to use the tape to seal their houses against possible chemical or biological attacks.
"There are a tremendous number of people who believe the war is wrong," said ABC-TV's Peter Jennings, one of the country's most influential news anchors, as the network showed images of protestors in Chicago on Friday.
A New York Times-CBS poll conducted Thursday, a day after allied forces made their first attack on Baghdad, found that 70 percent of people here approved Bush's handling of Iraq, but there were deep partisan divisions. While 93 percent of Republicans said they approved the president's campaign, only 50 percent of Democrats did. In 1991, former president George H.W. Bush enjoyed overwhelming bipartisan support for his Iraq policy: 94 percent of Republicans and 81 percent of Democrats.
Angry demonstrations have also taken place in Europe and the Middle East, the most violent one in Yemen on Friday, where two protestors died after being shot by police. Protests also took place Saturday in New Zealand, Japan, Bangladesh, India, South Korea and in London, where at least 200,000 marched against war.
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