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War Brings Protests and Nervousness


Oct 24, 2002
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Credit: The New York Times

For Much of World, War Brings Protests and Nervousness


PARIS, March 20 ? The start of the war in Iraq drew a wave of condemnation, a degree of resignation and little support from many governments and people in much of the world.

It also unleashed an angry and swelling wave of antiwar protests that began in the Pacific, even as hostilities were starting, and rolled across the Middle East to Europe. Whatever the outcome on the battlefield, America was being pilloried in the street.

Stock markets in Europe dropped moderately, putting an end to recent rallies, over concerns about the economic consequences of the war.

Travel in the Middle East was severely disrupted as airlines canceled flights or rerouted them because of the war.

Crude oil prices initially rose, in reaction in part to reports that Iraq was setting its oil fields afire, but they later retreated.

Across Europe and elsewhere as well, government leaders took to the television to address the people, calming concerns and largely repeating their well-known stands, supportive or skeptical, toward the Iraqi war.

Only hours after the first American fire fell on Baghdad, tens of thousands of demonstrators brought Australia's second-largest city, Melbourne, to a standstill. By this evening, hundreds of thousands of protesters in cities across several continents were angrily denouncing the war as cruel to Iraq's civilian population, unnecessary and illegal.

Yet efforts to heal the deep and corrosive divisions caused by the crisis were already under way.

In Brussels, where the leaders of the 15-nation European Union have begun a two-day summit meeting, they are expected to issue a joint statement of solidarity tonight that would call for the reconstruction of Iraq to be undertaken under the aegis of the United Nations.

Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain, the staunchest supported of President Bush and the war, is expected to address the British people about the war, and the need for healing, in a televised speech from European Union headquarters.

Later this evening, Mr. Blair is expected to come face to face with President Jacques Chirac, of France. Earlier today, in a televised message to the French people, Mr. Chirac said France regretted the outbreak of war and warned of "serous consequences" as a result of the hostilities.

"France regrets this action taken without the approval of the United Nations," the French president said. "I hope these operations are as fast as possible, with the least fatalities, and that they do not lead to a humanitarian catastrophe."

But Mr. Chirac appealed for solidarity among the nations to deal with the aftermath of the war. "We must join with our allies and the whole international community to deal together with the challenges that await us," he said.

Even as the leaders met, protesters in many countries angrily denounced the United States and demanded an end to the Iraqi war, prompting governments to take strenuous security measures to protect American embassy buildings and other symbols of the American presence.

In France, which is the most vocal opponent of the war, the American embassy and consulate buildings, just off the Place de la Concorde, were under heavy guard. Thousands of demonstrators assembled there, chanting anti-war slogans.

In Berlin, tens of thousands of students and others marched from the Alexanderplatz, in the city center, past the heavily guarded American embassy building and through the Brandenburg Gate, waving banners that read, "Stop the Bush Fire" and "George W. Hitler." Similar protests were reported in Stuttgart, Munich, Rostock and Saarbr?cken.

In Italy, tens of thousands of antiwar demonstrators marched in Milan and Venice in the north; in Rome, crowds marched toward the American embassy, at the foot of the broad Via Veneto, but were held back by riot police.

In Athens, an estimated 80,000 demonstrators, mainly students and labor activists, marched peacefully, chanting anti-American slogans. American flags were burned outside the embassy building,

In Britain, thousands of antiwar campaigners blocked roads and traffic in cities throughout England, Wales and Scotland.

In Spain, another supporter of Mr. Bush, hundreds of chanting protesters stood outside the American embassy in Madrid.

Anger and frustration at the war was expressed by demonstrators in many other cities, and further marches and protests were called for Friday and Saturday.

But here and there, even among leaders who had staunchly opposed the Iraqi war, was a sense of resignation and an effort to begin healing divisions.

In Germany, Chancellor Gerhard Schr?der, who provoked Washington's wrath by his rejection of all military action, said in a televised speech that "the wrong decision was taken." Yet he added: "The differences over the war are clear differences of opinion among governments, not deep-seated differences between friendly peoples. The substance of our relations with the United States of America is not endangered."

Russia and China also repeated their opposition to the war. China's foreign ministry, in a statement, said Beijing rejected the use of force, but recalled that it had consistently urged the Iraqi government to fully comply with Security Council resolutions to disarm.

The Xinhua news agency reported that China's former foreign minister, Tang Jiaxuan, said in a telephone call with Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, that China sought an immediate halt to military operations "so that the Iraq issue can be returned to the current track of a political solution."

But in Russia, despite strong words of condemnation from President Vladimir V. Putin, there were also expressions of hope that the conflict would not derail efforts toward a Russian-American partnership.

Mr. Putin, describing the war as a "big political mistake," said the attack was unjustified and went "against world opinion, the principals of international law and the United Nations charter."

But this evening, Russia's foreign minister, Igor Ivanov, appeared to voice greater pragmatism. Speaking with reporters, he said Russia and America "remain partners, not opponents, despite the war in Iraq."

"We must continue dialogue with the United States," he said.

In Canada, too, where the war is opposed, there were conciliatory words. Prime Minister Jean Chr?tien, who earlier this week announced that Canadian troops would not participate in the war without Security Council sanction, sought to smooth relations with Washington, saying, "We must do nothing to comfort Saddam Hussein."

"We hope it will be brief with a minimum of casualties on both sides," Mr. Chr?tien said. "We are working closely with American authorities to ensure our borders and our border crossings remain secure."

In the Pacific, the governments of Japan and the Philippines, close allies of the United States, expressed immediate support.

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi of Japan backed the military strike, despite widespread opposition to the war among his countrymen, saying that Baghdad had "not acted sincerely" toward the United Nations.

The Philippine president, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, describing the war as a "reality that we expected," said the Philippines were "part of the coalition of the willing."

But the view from the Vatican and other religious groups, where opposition to a war was deep and widespread, was unequivocal.

Joaquin Navarro-Valls, the papal spokesman, said the Vatican was "deeply pained" by outbreak of hostilities.

The Vatican lamented the fact that Baghdad "did not accept the resolutions of the United Nations and the appeal by the pope himself, which asked for the country to disarm," he said in a statement. But he also deplored the interruption of negotiations toward a peaceful solution.

The Vatican's displeasure was echoed in denunciations of the war from other religious leaders of Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant and Muslim groups across Europe and elsewhere.

In South America, official reaction of the six governments making up the Mercosur group has been uniformly negative, led by Brazil.

President Luiz In?cio Lula da Silva, condemned the American position as an act of "disrespect to the United Nations and the rest of the world" that lacks moral legitimacy.

"All of us want for Iraq not to have atomic weapons or weapons of mass destruction," he said in Bras?lia. "All of us want a world living in peace, but that does not give the United States the right to decide by itself what is good and what is bad for the world."

Reaction in Argentina was nearly identical. Under president Carlos Menem, Argentina was the only Latin American country to participate in the first Persian Gulf war in 1991, but President Eduardo Duhalde, announcing the cancellation of a trip to Europe because of the conflict, made it clear that would not be the case this time.

"We are against this war and we are not going to support it or take part in it," he said.

In Chile, popular indignation was tinged with official regret and sadness. As a member of the United Nations Security Council, Chile had participated in efforts to avoid a war, even offering a compromise plan of its own last week in a failed attempt to prevent a unilateral American action.

"It is a tragedy," said Gabriel Vald?s, Chile's ambassador to the United Nations. "Another tragedy is going to begin now."

As gauged by newspaper editorials and cartoons and radio and television call-in programs, popular response to the American action has been even more negative.

In Rio de Janeiro, the daily O Globo published a special section today on what it called "Bush's War," and cartoons in other publications show George W. Bush as a cowboy riding bombs as he would a horse or as a "Dr. Strangelove" figure.

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