Sunday, September 25, 2005

Thousands of protesters yesterday marched against the war in Iraq, aiming their anger at George W. Bush as they wound through downtown and past the White House.

Speakers at a rally on the Ellipse repeatedly called the president a criminal, a liar and a killer.

“We’ll be the checks and balances on this out-of-control, criminal government,” anti-war mother Cindy Sheehan told the crowd.

Hundreds of counterdemonstrators lined sections of the march route in support of Mr. Bush and U.S. troops in Afghanistan and Iraq.

“Hey, Cindy, leave our troops alone,” supporters of the war sang, borrowing the melody of a Pink Floyd hit to scold Mrs. Sheehan.

The Metropolitan Police Department made several arrests for destruction of property but reported few other problems despite some angry exchanges. Marchers scrawled graffiti along Connecticut Avenue Northwest and spray-painted an emergency vehicle.

“We’re busy, but nothing we can’t handle,” said Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey, who walked among protesters using a baton as a walking stick. “Most people who come to protest are peaceful. They don’t want any trouble.”

Police declined to estimate the size of the crowd, but Chief Ramsey, noting organizers had hoped to draw 100,000, said, “I think they probably hit that.”

The demonstrations began just after 10 a.m. with a rally on the Ellipse and scheduled speeches by actress Jessica Lange, the Rev. Al Sharpton and Ralph Nader as well as Mrs. Sheehan, who seized media attention this summer.

Some of the loudest applause greeted Mrs. Sheehan, who last month kept a 26-day vigil outside the president’s Prairie Chapel Ranch in Crawford, Texas. Her son, Casey, an enlisted Army specialist, was killed in Iraq in April 2004.

“We need a people’s movement to end this war,” Mrs. Sheehan said. “Members of Congress are not doing their jobs, and George Bush is certainly not doing his job, so we have to do our jobs.”

The Rev. Jesse Jackson stood behind Mrs. Sheehan after calling for better leadership in his remarks.

“When you march, things happen,” Mr. Jackson said. “We’ll change the Congress in 2006 and take back the White House in 2008.”

The crowd was a cross section of ages, races and occupations, and many were eager to share stories about long journeys from as far as California.

“We’re just trying to show our support for the anti-war movement and trying to get a message across,” said Robert Fox, 40, a computer engineer from Miami. “Whether [Mr. Bush] listens or not, it doesn’t really matter. We just need to show all of America that there’s a very large group of people that don’t agree with his policies.”

Mr. Fox and his wife, Vilma, were here for an anti-war rally in 2003.

“The mood of the country has definitely started to swing the other way,” he said.

Sara Carroll, 36, a bank teller from Petoskey, Mich., said this was her first protest.

“I just felt like I really had to,” she said. “This war has gone on too long, and I think they just need to see that there are this many people who don’t agree with it.”

The main march, organized by Act Now To Stop War and End Racism, or ANSWER, and United for Peace and Justice, was scheduled to start at 11:30 a.m., but did not get under way until almost 1 p.m. — in part because of the number of speeches.

Rep. Cynthia A. McKinney, Georgia Democrat, accused the Bush administration of election fraud and of starting the war on false evidence.

“A cruel wind blows across America, starting in Texas and Montana and sweeping across America’s heartland,” she said. “It settled here in Washington, D.C., and despite our presence today, it continues to buffet and batter the American people.”

Marchers left the Ellipse and headed north on 15th Street Northwest. They were met by a group of anti-globalization protesters who started at Dupont Circle, then paraded past the World Bank and International Monetary Fund headquarters before connecting with the big march.

Some shouted into megaphones, while others chanted, danced and banged drums. Uniformed police officers on foot, on bicycles and on horseback guarded the route. Although some officers wore helmets, none was outfitted in riot gear.

In front of the White House, police formed a line and used bicycle racks to make barriers along Pennsylvania Avenue. At about 1:50 p.m., a group of black-clad protesters briefly set a small Israeli flag on fire in Lafayette Square.

Mr. Bush was not in the White House, having spent much of the day in Colorado and then in Texas to monitor the federal response to Hurricane Rita.

Demonstrators supportive of the president staged a rally at the Navy Memorial on Pennsylvania Avenue Northwest. They later lined the march route between Ninth and 10th streets Northwest.

“I fought for your right to hate your country,” one shouted at the marchers.

War protesters shouted back: “Bush lied, thousands died” and “Hey, Bush, we know you, your daddy was a killer, too.”

The exchange was punctuated occasionally with vulgar gestures and shouted obscenities, but police kept the groups separate.

The war protesters shared the streets with other groups visiting the District for other pursuits. Hundreds gathered downtown for a convention of enthusiasts of Segways, the two-wheeled human transporters. The National Book Festival, sponsored by the Library of Congress, turned out crowds, too.

The juxtaposition of events created some odd scenes. A small group of demonstrators on their way to the Ellipse carried about a half-dozen cardboard boxes decorated as flag-draped caskets through the book festival and past a line of mothers with children waiting to ride the carousel at the Smithsonian Castle.

Also yesterday, anti-war demonstrators marched in central London to demand that Prime Minister Tony Blair withdraw British troops from Iraq. Similar rallies were held in Copenhagen, Helsinki, Madrid, Oslo, Paris and Rome.

The ranks of the protesters here thinned as the march wound down after 4 p.m. Several thousand remained at the Washington Monument for a concert that was expected to last well into the night.

More protests are scheduled for today, including attempts to keep employees of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund from attending semiannual meetings. Supporters of the troops in Iraq were to rally at noon today on the Mall at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.

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

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