- The Washington Times - Monday, March 17, 2003

Protests around the world, calls for peace, and arrests dominated anti-war demonstrations amid a looming U.S.-led war on Iraq.

About 150 people rallied in front of the U.S. Capitol Monday to protest a possible war and a third of them were arrested.

The demonstration was organized by the Iraq Pledge of Resistance, a coalition of groups and individuals who pledged to take part in civil disobedience to protest the possible war.

Max Buszewski, a member of the Pledge for Resistance and the American Friends Service Committee, said that as a possible war draws near, additional civil disobedience was planned.

He said these actions were necessary to show that the American people don't support a war in Iraq, which he said would be illegal by the standards of the United Nations and the U.S. Constitution. He added that the goal of these actions was not to be arrested.

"We're here because Congress has not been speaking out," he said.

Fifty-four protestors were arrested, most of who had purposely walked through police lines peacefully, a Capitol Police official said.

Medea Benjamin, co-organizer of the women's peace group Code Pink, was one of those arrested during the protest.

"We were trying to reach our representatives, to plead with them to stop this war, because our representatives in Congress are failing us," she said. "We are doing our civil duty. This war will have horrific consequences for Iraqi civilians."

Benjamin, who has been arrested several times, said the police were civil.

"We want to show Bush that he's not representing us," she said.

Paul Nelson, a student at the State University of New York, New Paltz, attended the demonstration, as well as a candlelight vigil at the Lincoln Memorial on Sunday and a march on Saturday.

"The United Nations doesn't agree with this war, therefore there is no reason the United States should do it," Nelson said.

Monday's arrests signaled a possible increase in the civil disobedience by activist organizations and individuals.

"We call upon the American people to rise up in the millions with calls, letters, faxes, e-mails, visit-ins and nonviolent civil disobedience demanding that the U.S. Congress assert its Constitutional duty," said Kelly Campbell, co-director of September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, who was arrested last Thursday during a demonstration at the Capitol.

Major peace groups in the United States issued a national call for non-violent direct action beginning immediately. Massive civil disobedience actions were planned in Washington at the Capitol beginning Monday, according to a joint statement issued by several groups.

Protests were also scheduled at the U.N. headquarters in New York and across the United States, the statement said.

Peace activists also told leaders of the United States, Britain, Spain and Portugal that a pre-emptive strike against Iraq would be in violation of both U.S. and international law.

Sunday's four-nation Atlantic summit showed no respect to "the United Nations, international law, and the U.S. Constitution," the activists said.

"If the war begins, people of Iraq and the United States would both suffer," said Bill Fletcher, president of TransAfrica Forum for pace.

Blaming the United States and Britain for much of the suffering Iraqis have endured over the past decade, they said a war with Iraq would make things worse.

"It is madness to claim to be protecting the talent, culture and potential of a people by preparing to bomb their homes, schools, libraries, museums and cultural sites," said Leslie Cagan, national co-chair of United for Peace and Justice.

"Tony Blair was willing to speak of the hardship the people of Iraq have endured, but failed to mention that this was the result of punishing economic sanctions, as well as weekly bombing assaults by the United States over the past decade."

Protests and calls for peace continued around the world and President Bush gave Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein and his sons 48 hours to leave the country or face war.

In Russia, the head of the Russian Orthodox Christian Church, Aleksiy II, wrote to Bush and Blair to urge them to stop military action against Iraq.

It would be "unwise to use military force to influence the Iraqi leadership given that there still are peaceful opportunities for the resolution of the international problems that have arisen in connection with Iraq," the letter said.

Russia, a veto-wielding, permanent member of the U.N. Security Council has been a vocal critic of military action to disarm Saddam.

"We call on the government of the United States of America to become the standard-bearer for the goodwill of the American people, many of whose religious and public figures have spoken out against a military operation in Iraq," the letter said. "We call on you to take the path of peace."

In Iraq, Australian peace activists said they will not leave the country though their government has sent troops to the region in the event of a war.

"We get people who are concerned about our safety. I wish they would be equally concerned about the safety of the Iraqi people," said Uniting Church minister Neville Watson. "And we are taking no more risks than the average, ordinary Iraqi. I probably won't be going to a shelter when the bombing starts, and the reason for that is that most Iraqis won't be going to shelters either."

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