- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 18, 2007

Thousands of anti-war demonstrators yesterday marched to the Pentagon to rail against President Bush and the Iraq war in a protest designed to evoke a similar march 40 years ago against the war in Vietnam.

The demonstrators assembled just before noon on the Mall at 23rd Street and Constitution Avenue Northwest, where they were met by a large group of war supporters and military veterans waving American flags.

Many of the veterans were drawn to the protest because of reports that protesters might try to vandalize the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

Brian Becker, the national coordinator for the umbrella protest group Act Now to Stop War and End Racism, or ANSWER, said the reports were groundless, and he called the counterprotesters “Bush puppets” who made purposely misleading statements to stir up bad blood between protesters and veterans.

“These people tried to manipulate the feelings of Vietnam veterans by saying we would deface the Vietnam memorial,” Mr. Becker said. “These people can fool some people sometimes, but the people of this country are waking up and that’s what this demonstration shows.”

The two sides were separated along Constitution Avenue in Northwest by barricades and police on foot, on motorcycles and on horses. Oral exchanges between the groups were intense and laced with expletives, but no incidents were reported.

Jim Runge, an Army veteran from Tidewater, Va., came with a large group of military veterans and was among hundreds who surrounded the memorial.

“If you want to protest the government by throwing paint around, that’s fine. It’s the right of expression,” he said. “But to deface the memorial of the people who gave their lives and the memorial that recognizes their sacrifice? That’s cruel and it’s stupid.”

Heather Harts’ohorn, 50, of Alexandria said she was puzzled by the counterprotesters’ support for the war.

“I don’t know why veterans are so willing to send others into combat,” she said. “Who knows better than Vietnam veterans about how a war can ruin someone’s life? Do they want them to stay in Iraq until they all come home in Ziploc bags?”

The throng of anti-war demonstrators left the Lincoln Memorial just before 1 p.m., crossing the Arlington Memorial Bridge into Virginia to rally at the north parking lot of the Pentagon. Many carried signs with slogans such as “Impeach Bush” and “Bring the troops home now.”

“We’re here in the shadow of the war machine,” said anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan.

“It’s like being in the shadow of the Death Star,” Mrs. Sheehan told the crowd, referring to the planet-destroying weapon in the movie “Star Wars.” “They take their death and destruction. and they export it around the world. We need to shut it down.”

Police do not give official crowd estimates but said privately that perhaps 10,000 to 20,000 anti-war demonstrators marched, with the crowd of counterprotesters numbering in the thousands. The demonstration was smaller than a January anti-war protest that featured a number of celebrity speakers, including Vietnam-era activist Jane Fonda.

The march yesterday shared its route with — but drew significantly fewer participants than — the Oct. 21, 1967, march on the Pentagon that was its inspiration. That protest began peacefully but turned ugly in clashes between authorities and more radical elements of the estimated crowd of 50,000 in front of the Defense Department’s headquarters. More than 600 protesters were arrested that day.

Police yesterday reported only a few isolated conflicts with protesters and a handful of arrests.

In one incident, officers in riot gear confronted about 100 demonstrators who strayed from the approved march route. Pentagon police spokeswoman Cheryl Irwin said five persons were cited and released during another incident after the march when they refused orders to leave Arlington Memorial Bridge so that police could reopen it to traffic.

Friday night, thousands of Christians prayed for peace during an anti-war service at the Washington National Cathedral. A crowd of about 3,000 later marched through snow and wind to the White House, where police arrested 222 persons for violating a requirement for protesters to keep moving.

President Bush was at Camp David this weekend.

Similar rallies were scheduled yesterday in Denver, Chicago, Oklahoma City, Hartford, Conn., and Lincoln, Neb. Overseas, more than 3,000 people protested peacefully in Istanbul, Turkey, and about 1,000 in Athens, Greece.

A rally is scheduled to be held today in San Francisco.

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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