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Europeans Demonstrate Strong Anti-War Sentiments on Iraq War Anniversary

Tom Rivers

Two years after the start of the Iraq war, anti-war sentiments have not diminished in Europe. In Rome, Madrid and elsewhere demonstrators made their voice heard. In London, tens of thousands marched to Trafalgar Square to, as they see it, send a message to Prime Minister Tony Blair.

On the second anniversary of the invasion, the demonstrator numbers are down compared to the massive turnout seen here and elsewhere in February, 2003 but the protesters have shown repeatedly that they are not going away.

With U.S.-led forces still facing violent opposition in Iraq, the demonstrators seem divided about what they want their political leaders, like Prime Minister Tony Blair, to do now.

Some are calling for an immediate pullout of troops. Others argue that would leave the Iraqis in a worse position than before the invasion.

"One of the main objectives of this demonstration it to demand that the troops be brought home," said John Rees from the Stop the War Coalition, one of the organizers of the London march. "We were told at the time of the Iraqi elections that everything was fine that everything was settled, that the Iraqis were on the path to democracy. When that body met this week, it met for two hours. It could not decide a prime minister. It could not decide a president. And we now see that there can be no legitimate government which can emerge in Iraq while it is under military occupation."

Reg Keys, whose son Thomas, a British soldier, died in the war, says he wants to see British forces replaced in Iraq.

"We need the troops brought safely home, replaced by a U.N. peacekeeping force, preferably of Muslim or Arabic extraction and have an affinity with the culture there and let us have a stabilizing period in Iraq," he commented.

While similar protests were being staged in places like Rome, Oslo and in various cities in Spain, British elections, expected in May, have added another dimension to the protest here.

And London Protest organizer John Rees predicts that the war will impact strongly on Tony Blair's election campaign.

"Mr. Blair says that he is very proud of what was done in Iraq. So, if he is proud of it, why is it not on the front of Labor's election manifesto? Why is he not bringing the [Iraqi] president when they choose one over here to help him campaign? He is not proud of it. He is ashamed of it. He is trying to bury the Iraq issue," said Mr. Rees.

Organizers say it was the first mass demonstration to pass by the American embassy since it became a flashpoint of anti Vietnam War protests in 1968.

As well as the anti-war movement, the marchers carried banners and flags supporting a range of causes including nuclear disarmament, rights for asylum seekers and the future of Palestine.

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