- The Washington Times - Friday, February 14, 2003

BRUSSELS, Belgium, Feb. 14 (UPI) — Millions of Europeans are expected to take to the streets Saturday to protest the looming war in Iraq, in what is being billed as the continent's largest ever day of demonstrations.

United for Peace and Justice, a U.S.-based campaign group, estimates that 603 anti-war protests have been organized across the globe, with over 200 taking place in European cities.

Around 150,000 dissenters kicked off a weekend of worldwide protests in Melbourne, Australia Friday in the country's greatest anti-war rally since the Vietnam conflict 30 years ago. Marchers brandished placards proclaiming: "No Blood for Oil" and "Uncle Sam is a terrorist."

The largest demonstrations in Europe are forecast in Britain, Spain and Italy, where the ruling governments support the American military build-up in the Gulf.

London is bracing itself for the biggest march in British history, with over half a million people expected to converge on Hyde Park for a star-studded rally. U.S. civil rights leader Jesse Jackson, playwright Harold Pinter and human rights campaigner Bianca Jagger are due to address the crowds.

"Iraq is a challenge that must be put into perspective," Jackson told the British Broadcasting Corp. "It is not a priority that Bush and Blair have made it to be."

Chris Nineham from the London-based Stop the War Coalition told United Press International: "What (U.S. President George W.) Bush and (British Prime Minister Tony) Blair are attempting to do is so unjustified that people's anger is understandable."

In Spain, where over 90 per cent of the population is opposed to a unilateral strike against Baghdad by the United States and its allies, all the major opposition parties and trade unions have joined forces to protest in over 50 cities.

The largest demonstration is likely to take place in Barcelona, where up to half a million marchers are expected to voice their opposition to Prime Minister Jose-Maria Aznar's hard-line stance.

Italy is also likely to witness massive protests, with hundreds of thousands of peace campaigners likely to hit the streets of the capital Rome Saturday.

In France, Germany and Belgium, where ruling parties have called for more time for United Nations weapons inspectors and blocked NATO plans to protect Turkey in the case of a war with Iraq, the anti-war demonstrations are likely to be smaller and more muted.

However, 50,000 protesters are due to march through Paris Saturday, with rallies anticipated in 50 other French cities.

With opinion polls showing overwhelming opposition to war across the continent, Nineham says politicians have "lost touch" with the voters they are supposed to represent.

"Blair and Bush are driven by different priorities than most people live their lives by. They have used the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States as a smokescreen to push for profits in parts of the world they see as rewarding for them."

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