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Massive Anti-War Protests Fill Australian Streets Again - 2003-02-16

Hundreds of thousands of people have marched through Australian cities in protests against a possible war with Iraq. The country's prime minister says the protests will not change his support for efforts to disarm Iraq.

A sea of protesters waving banners and chanting anti-war slogans effectively shut down central Sydney for about two hours. Many observers think it may have been one of the biggest rallies in Australian history.

Police estimate the crowd was at least 200,000, but say the sheer mass of people made it difficult to calculate the true number. Elsewhere in Australia, more than 100,000 people marched in Adelaide and at least 50,000 took to the streets in Brisbane. Two-thousand marched through the streets of Darwin.

Sunday's rallies came after similar-sized marches in Melbourne and other Australian cities on Friday and Saturday.

Protesters want the government and Prime Minister John Howard to abandon any plans to join a U.S. led war against Iraq. "I'm very angry with our government," said one protester. "I think, John, you should take a really close listen to what people else have to say," added another. "I don't really understand why we need to have a war, does anyone really know?"

Mr. Howard has defended his stance on Iraq and says he will not be swayed. He argues the anti-war rallies do not indicate widespread opposition to his position. "There'd be many others who would either support it or be very much in the middle," he said.

Australia has already sent two thousand troops to the Persian Gulf area, along with fighter planes and warships, to support the U.S. building. The prime minister, however, has yet to commit to joining any military campaign to disarm Saddam Hussein.

The United States says Iraq has failed to meet United Nations requirements to disarm, and threatens to use force to bring Baghdad into compliance.

A recent survey found more than 60 percent of Australians were opposed to a war.