(IPS) ROME -- Spain and Italy saw some of the biggest demonstrations Saturday to mark a year since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.
Spain saw a spillover of protests that have never quite died out since the train bombings in Madrid, March 11, left more than 200 dead and 1,400 wounded.
Hundreds of thousands of demonstrators protested in Spain, and if the demonstrations were not even bigger, that could be due partly to demonstrations fatigue, and also because Spain had a chance to express itself through elections, and make it matter.
But despite a week of protests, demonstrations were again strong across Spain. Anti-war demonstrations were held in the Andalusian city of Seville at mid-day. Demonstrators carried a banner that read: "For all the victims, get the occupation troops out." An estimated 40,000 joined the march. Big protest meetings were held later in Madrid and in other cities.
Italy saw a massive turnout of protesters. About 250,000 came out to demonstrate in Rome, according to local authorities. Organizers said the number was closer to two million.
That led to questions about Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. Was he headed the same way as former Spanish prime minister Jose Maria Aznar? If the Italians could have voted Saturday, few would bet it could be otherwise.
Like Aznar, Berlusconi was an enthusiast supporter of the invasion of Iraq led by President George W. Bush. And like Aznar, he took the decision to support the war in the face of overwhelming opposition from his own people. A year ago the anti-war demonstrations in Rome were the biggest in the world with more than two million taking to the streets.
This time the anti-war protest in Rome was fed by the involvement of more than 2,000 civil society organisations. Hundreds of special trains and buses from all over Italy began to arrive in Rome from early in the morning. The demonstration began an hour ahead of time because there was no space left for more demonstrations coming in.
The rally in Rome, like hundreds of others around the world, was more than a protest over the invasion of Iraq, or over the continuing occupation of it. Demonstrators here wanted "the end of all wars".
Demonstrators in Italy who had produced the famous rainbow coloured peace flags last year carried peace banners this year, and Palestinian and Kurdish flags.
"This is an expression of solidarity with the Iraqi people and with the victims of all wars," Flavio Lotti, a member of the 'Stop the War' committee which organised the rally told media representatives.
One reason the Italian demonstration was so strong was also because of a long campaign in support of the demonstration. Four 'peace caravans' have been touring Italy since the beginning of this month to drum up support against war.
Italy has paid a price for its participation in the occupation of Iraq. A bomb blast killed 17 Italian soldiers in Nassiriya Nov. 12 last year. The big demonstration Saturday could be indication that Berlusconi will pay a political price for supporting the war.
But Britain where anti-war sentiment has been strong saw only a relatively small turnout of protesters. "No more lies Mr Blair" seemed the slogan of the day.
Organisers were clearly disappointed with the turnout estimated by the police at no more than 25,000. An organiser told media representatives that one reason for the low turnout was that "the weather isn't great." More than a million had marched through London Feb. 15 last year in protest against an attack on Iraq.
Two protesters who climbed on to Big Ben came down later because of strong winds and because one of them said "we made our point". Both demonstrators were arrested.
In Paris, only about a thousand people came out to demonstrate. "Send Bush to Mars" read one slogan. Demonstrations took place also in other French cities like Marseille, Lyon and Toulouse.
In Berlin about 1,500 people came out to demonstrate, and another thousand or so protested outside a U.S. airbase in Ramstein.
In Amsterdam a few hundred protesters marched to the centre of town to gather at Dam Square where a famous World War II monument is located. The government of the Netherlands remains a strong supporter of the U.S. invasion of Iraq. About 1,300 Dutch troops are stationed in Iraq.
The demonstrations began in Australia and moved west through the day.
Sceptics in both Australia and Japan used the Mar. 20 anniversary of the invasion of Iraq to warn against the consequences of involvement by their countries in the U.S.-led occupation of that country.
Some 2,000 marched in Sydney to mark the first anniversary of the war on Iraq, with speakers critical of Australia's close ties with the U.S. administration. They said such support would carry a price, as it did for Spain.
In Japan, protesters said the real way to end terrorism was to get rid of U.S. President George W. Bush. A conducted by the 'Asahi Shimbun' daily earlier in March found that 66 percent of the respondents said the United States had no legitimate reason to attack Iraq, while 19 percent said it did.
The crowds in Australia and Japan were smaller than last year. Demonstrations in other countries drew only a few hundreds.
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