- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 25, 2003

Busloads of antiwar demonstrators from a hundred American cities rallied in the District yesterday, calling for an end to the U.S.-led occupation of Iraq and demanding an immediate withdrawal of American troops.

Protesters from Maine and Colorado beat drums and chanted “Bring them home and impeach Bush” as they marched past the White House and the Justice Department yesterday afternoon. Many carried homemade placards that read, “Never Prouder to be a Non-Republican” and “Bush Lied — Americans Died.”

Some donned fanciful costumes to underscore their views.

Dr. Alan Meyers, a pediatrician from Boston, came to the rally dressed as a missile. The protest, he said, showed the world “that Americans are dead set against what the Bush administration is up to — at home and abroad — and especially in Iraq.”

“We never should have gone into Iraq in the first place,” he said. “[The invasion] was based on a pack of lies.”

The antiwar rally, which took place at the Mall, was the first major demonstration since May 1 when Mr. Bush declared an end to major combat in Iraq.

Organizers said the time was right to hold the rally and march because Americans were becoming increasingly suspicious of Mr. Bush’s Iraq policy.

No weapons of mass destruction have been found in Iraq, they argue, and troop casualties are rising. So far, 108 have been killed by hostile fire since May 1. A total of 347 U.S. soldiers and Marines have died from hostile fire, accidents and other causes since Operation Iraqi Freedom began in March.

Organizers estimated that 100,000 people turned out for the demonstration, but police at the scene put the number much lower, from 10,000 to 20,000. U.S. Park Police no longer issue official crowd estimates, so the size of the protest could not be verified.

International ANSWER (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism) and United for Peace and Justice, which brought together about 600 groups, held similar demonstrations in San Francisco yesterday.

Mr. Bush was spending the weekend at Camp David in Maryland.

About 100 people held a simultaneous counterdemonstration on the other side of the Mall, near the Capitol.

The D.C. chapter of Free Republic, an independent conservative group, gathered to show support for Mr. Bush and the troops in Iraq. The group gathered under a banner that read, “God bless our soldiers’ liberation the world of one tyrant at a time.”

“I don’t think [International ANSWER] should be the only loud, obnoxious voice here,” said Mike Gregory, who traveled from New Hampshire to show his support for Mr. Bush’s policies in Iraq.

Mark Walker, who had just returned from a military tour of Kuwait, said protests don’t hurt the morale of military personnel as long as counterdemonstrations are held at the same time. “What hurts the morale is when the media only reports the negative,” he said.

A moment of confrontation came when a dozen or more counterdemonstrators used bullhorns to shout at the antiwar protesters. They carried signs saying “Trust Jesus” and “God Hates You.” Police on horses stood between the groups.

Before the march, peace activists and representatives of various interest groups criticized Mr. Bush’s policies in Iraq.

Fernando de Solar Suarez, a father of a Marine who was killed in Iraq shortly after the war began, said the United States doesn’t need any more deaths. “President Bush — wrongly called president — has lied to the entire world about this war,” said Mr. Suarez, whose son Jesus was killed in action.

The Rev. Graylan Hagler of Plymouth Congregational Church in the District said the war was “built on a lie.”

“We’re standing up here today in D.C. … We are the people. We understand the war was built on a lie,” he told the protesters, who cheered. “It’s time now to bring the troops home. It’s time to send Bush packing back to Texas.”

Former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark told the crowd that the greatest threat to peace and security are Mr. Bush’s policies, not terrorism. “This president made us international outlaws. Even in Australia, we can’t go there without being jeered,” he said as the protesters applauded. “What we’ve done in Afghanistan and Iraq is the greatest crime known.”

Protester Zak Fayer can’t vote yet, but the 16-year-old from New Jersey said he felt that it was important for him to attend the rally and march. The 10th-grader who attends Eastern High School in Voorhees, N.J., said he’s politically active in school and predicts that Mr. Bush will not be re-elected.

“We should have never have been in Iraq. It’s an illegal war,” Zak said. “But, people coming together today will make a difference. The people’s voice should be stronger than the White House’s voice.”

A group of about 300 military family members with Military Families Speak Out (MFSO) also joined the antiwar demonstrators.

“I don’t think there is any reason for war,” said Anne Alvallee, 44, of Massachusetts. She said she is a pacifist and that her father fought in Normandy during World War II.

As an organization, MFSO is opposed to the U.S.-led invasion and occupation of Iraq. Members gathered under a banner that said: “Military families say bring them home now!”

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