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Peace Activists March on Washington to Protest Iraq War

Peace activists have held another anti-war rally on the National Mall in Washington Saturday, the first such event since Democrats assumed control of Congress. Organizers say they hope participants will stay in town over the weekend for training on how to lobby against the war, and visit their Congressmen on Monday, to demand legislation that would pull U.S. troops out of Iraq. VOA's Marissa Melton reports.

Hollywood activists Jane Fonda and Susan Sarandon, and the Rev. Jesse Jackson, are among the big-name celebrities present at today's rally, along with an active-duty member of the U.S. Navy and a retired Army colonel.

The group organizing the event - United for Peace and Justice - says the spark behind today's rally was President Bush's call earlier this month for an additional 21,000 troops to be sent to Iraq. The group says its website received more than five million support messages this month, including 650,000 on Wednesday, when organizers held a press conference announcing today's march.

The skies were clear, but temperatures were chilly as thousands of people gathered for the event. Many of the marchers said they came because of personal reasons. Juan Torres of Chicago wore a t-shirt memorializing his son, an Army soldier who died in Afghanistan in 2004. Torres, an immigrant from Argentina, has marched in numerous anti-war protests. He says the war has destroyed his life and family. "My life is destroyed. My family is destroyed. The president, they don't care about my family. They don't care about me, they don't care about nobody. Also, the government, when I receive my son's medal, I receive by mail. They don't respect me. Maybe because I'm a Spanish guy, I don't know," he says.

Bob Watada is the father of an Army lieutenant who is facing court-martial for refusing to deploy to Iraq. He addressed the crowd early in the afternoon. "My son, Lieutenant Ehren Watada, as a proud patriotic American soldier, has stood up to say "enough is enough." And We have to say enough is enough. Because he refused to lead his men and women into the massacre of innocent men and women, to lead his men to their own deaths for corporate greed, the military commanders want to punish him," he says.

Watada said his son is being punished for telling the truth about the war. "Lieutenant Watada spoke out and said the president has been deceptive. And that there are atrocities going on in Iraq. These are the words of truth," he says.

Later, actress and activist Jane Fonda - well-known for her anti-war activities during the Vietnam War - made her first appearance at an anti-war rally in decades. "I haven't spoken at an anti-war rally in 34 years, because I've been afraid that the lies about me would be used to hurt this anti-war movement. But silence is no longer an option," she said.

She thanked the crowds for coming, saying their commitment to ending the war allows people in other parts of the world remain hopeful that America can once again become a country they can love and respect.

Other well-known celebrities also said a few words, including actor Sean Penn and the Reverend Jesse Jackson. The crowd roard, music was played, and after the rally the demonstrators marched in the streets near the Capitol building, waving signs with slogans calling for everything from the end of the war to the impeachment of President Bush.

But not everyone who attended was a seasoned protester. For Amber Cilly of the northeastern state of Massachusetts, this was her first anti-war event. She was moved almost to tears when she explained why. "I have two sons and I lost my uncle in Vietnam. And the fact that we keep doing this over and over again and making the same mistakes is pretty upsetting," she said. "And the guys need to come home."

A handful of people staged a counter-protest, holding signs and yelling at the demonstrators. One carried a sign saying "We gave peace a chance; we got 9/11."