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Spaniards Hold Mass Demonstrations Against War with Iraq - 2003-02-16

In some of the biggest worldwide anti-war demonstrations, hundreds of thousands of people throughout Spain took to the streets on Saturday. Although the government of Prime Minister José María Aznar firmly supports the Bush administration's policy on a possible war with Iraq, polls show that more than 80 percent of Spanish are against the use of force.

Anti-war demonstrations took place in 57 cities throughout Spain, including all the provincial capitals. The two biggest were held in Madrid and Barcelona, with a total of about two million people.

Spain's Prime Minister José María Aznar has been a staunch supporter of U.S. policy toward Iraq, despite the fact that polls show that the vast majority of Spaniards are against the use of force to make Iraq disarm. The result has been that his ruling Popular Party has stood alone in parliament in defending the U.S. policy on Iraq. The peace demonstrations were organized or supported by the major opposition Socialist party, the United Left Coalition, the major labor unions, and various non-government organizations like Greenpeace. Following Pope John Paul II's opposition to the war option against Iraq, Catholics led by priests and nuns turned out in large numbers, and church bells chimed in some cities during the demonstrations.

Both the Madrid and Barcelona demonstrations were headed not only by opposition politicians and union leaders, but by Spanish actors and artists as well. Film Director Pedro Almodovar, nominated for Oscars as best script writer and director, read the closing manifesto in Madrid.

Spain's Prime Minister José María Aznar is expected to advocate U.S.-led war against Iraq at a special meeting of European Unions leaders on Monday. Mr. Aznar is one of the world leaders to speak most frequently to President George W. Bush by telephone, and the White House has confirmed that he is due to meet with Mr. Bush at his ranch in Texas next weekend.