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Anti-War Protesters Pour Into Streets of Australia, New Zealand - 2003-02-15

Thousands of protesters in Australia and New Zealand poured into the streets Saturday to kick off a weekend of world-wide demonstrations against any war in Iraq.

In Australia, tens of thousands of people joined protests across the nation, including the capital Canberra, and the state capitals of Perth and Hobart. In Sydney, activists scaled an awning of a prominent building near the U.S. Consulate-General to unfurl a banner reading "No U.S. Oil War".

The protests follow a rally of 150,000 people in Melbourne on Friday, one of the biggest demonstrations seen in Australia since the Vietnam War.

Other rallies have taken place in cities and towns across Australia and in New Zealand. Organizers were hoping for a turnout of up to 500,000 people in Auckland*. These were among some 600 anti-war anti-war demonstrations scheduled to take place around the world this weekend.

The protesters in both countries are sending a consistent message to their political leaders, that they are opposed to a war against Iraq. The New Zealand government is already generally opposed to the war, and supports continued United Nations weapons inspections in Iraq, while Australia's government is a staunch supporter of the Bush Administration's hard-line position.

Andrew Bartlett, the leader of the Australian Democrats, the third main force in Australian politics, said the world's leaders must pursue alternatives other than war to disarm Saddam Hussein. "And it sends a message not to just Australia's political leaders but to leaders around the globe that people everywhere want us to pursue the peace options," he said.

Protests were also staged elsewhere in Asia Saturday. An estimated 6,000 people joined a protest march in Tokyo Friday night, and a similar number marched to the U.S. embassy in the Philippines capital, Manila.

In the world's newest nation, East Timor, about 150 people marched through the capital, Dili, early Saturday, opposing American war plans. Larger rallies were planned in South Korea and Taiwan, both prominent U.S. allies.

Despite the popular pressure, Australian Prime Minister John Howard, in Jakarta for talks with the Indonesian President about Iraq, continued to press Saturday for a tough U.N. stance against Baghdad.

Australia has already sent some 2,000 troops, along with jet fighters and warships to the Middle East to join any war against Iraq.

*corrected 2/21/03