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Protesters Across Europe Demonstrate on Iraq War Anniversary - 2004-03-20

Tens of thousands of protesters marched through the streets of London on the first anniversary of the outbreak of the U.S.-led war in Iraq. It was one of the largest of a series of demonstrations across Europe. Other rallies took place in major cities in East Asia and the Middle East.

A year after the war began, Britain remains a deeply divided country. Despite a handful of inquiries and spirited public debate over the past 12 months, Britons continue to be split over Prime Minister Tony Blair's decision to join with President Bush and enter the conflict.

As they have done numerous times, anti-war demonstrators took to the streets of the British capital on Saturday, the first anniversary of the war's start.

Skepticism over Tony Blair's stated reason for going to war, namely Saddam Hussein's suspected weapons of mass destruction, remains a major bone of contention in the country.

To mark Saturday's occasion, two Greenpeace activists eluded police security and scaled London's landmark Big Ben clock tower outside the houses of Parliament. There, they unfurled a large banner. It read, "Time for Truth."

Stephen Tindale, the executive director of Greenpeace says the message was directed at Tony Blair's government. "The purpose of this is to send a clear message to the prime minister and to parliament that we are fed up with the evasions and half-truths that we have been getting about Iraq for 18 months now," he said, "and that it is time to tell us the whole truth about why we went to war."

In the capital, streets were blocked off, as thousands made the march from Hyde Park to Trafalgar Square.

Although the major hostilities may now be over, the marchers say they will not go away, and they will keep on pressuring the government.

"I am here because Tony Blair has consistently lied to the country about the weapons of mass destruction in Iraq," said one protester. "He keeps trying to draw a line under the question of the war in Iraq, and I am here really to make sure that that does not happen, because thousands of innocent men, women and children have paid the price of his war for oil. And I think it is time for Blair to go."

Another protester said, "I am here to demonstrate my support for the Stop the War Coalition, and my dissatisfaction with Tony Blair's policies and the things that have led us into this situation with him now."

"It is really important that Blair gets the message, the warmongers lose elections," said a third protester. "We should be out of Iraq. We have no business there. The war has made us more of a target for terrorists than ever before, and what we have done to the Iraqi people does not bear thinking about."

Black balloons were released from Trafalgar Square to symbolize the death in Madrid last week of more than 200 people who died at the hands of terrorists.

Similar marches were held elsewhere in Britain and throughout Europe. In Rome, tens-of-thousands marched through the city's center under a rainbow-colored flag and a giant banner reading, Together through Peace.

In Greece, an estimated 10,000 demonstrators marched to the U.S. Embassy in the capital, Athens, protesting the war in Iraq, as well as government plans to have NATO help with security at the summer Olympic Games.

In Spain, some 50 evening demonstrations were planned. Other gatherings were taking place across the continent including Oslo, Paris, and Copenhagen, where a few hundred protesters gathered, waving placards that read, "Do like Spain, pull out the troops."