SYDNEY, Australia, AP – An anti-war rally in Australia kicked off what was expected to be a wave of global protests on Saturday, as campaigners marked the third anniversary of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq with a demand that coalition troops pull out.
Around 500 protesters marched through central Sydney, chanting “End the war now and “Troops out of Iraq.” Many campaigners waved placards branding President Bush the “World’s No. 1 Terrorist” or expressing concerns that Iran could be the next country to face invasion.
“Hands off Iran,” read several placards carried by protesters.
“Iraq is a quagmire and has been a humanitarian disaster for the Iraqis,” said Jean Parker, a member of the Australian branch of the Stop the War Coalition, which organized the march. “There is no way forward without ending the occupation.”
Paddy Gibson of the pressure group Students Against War said the “deepening crisis” in Iraq would only get worse if coalition troops stayed. “The longer this occupation continues, the more destabilized that country becomes.”
Opposition to the war is still evident in Australia, which has some 1,300 troops in and around Iraq. Visiting Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was heckled by campaigners in Sydney this week, who said she had “blood on her hands.”
But Saturday’s protest was small, compared to the mass demonstrations that swept across the country in the buildup to the invasion — the largest Australia had seen since joining U.S. forces in the Vietnam War.
In Tokyo, about 2,000 people rallied in a downtown park, carrying signs saying “Stop the Occupation” as they listened to a series of anti-war speeches, said Takeshiko Tsukushi, a member of World Peace Now, which helped plan the rally. Tokyo police were unable to immediately confirm the number in attendance.
“The war is illegal under international law,” Tsukushi said. “We want the immediate withdrawal of the Self Defense Forces and from Iraq along with all foreign troops.”
Japanese Prime Minister Junchiro Koizumi is a staunch supporter of the U.S.-led coalition in Japan and dispatched 600 troops to the southern city of Samawah in 2004 to purify water and carry out other humanitarian tasks. The Cabinet approved an extension of that mission in December, authorizing soldiers to stay in Iraq through the end of the year.
But public opinion polls show the majority of Japanese oppose the mission, which has been criticized as a violation of the country’s pacifist constitution. Many say the deployment has made Japan a target for terrorism.
Demonstrations were also expected across Europe.
“We will continue until we see the last general running for a helicopter on the roof of the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad,” read a statement from Stop the War Alliance, which is organizing a rally outside the U.S. Embassy in Athens, Greece.
In London, Scotland Yard police headquarters said streets around Piccadilly Circus in the heart of the shopping and theater district would be closed as up to 100,000 people planned to march through the capital. Britain has about 8,000 troops in Iraq.
Demonstrations “Against the Occupation of Iraq” were planned Saturday in several Spanish cities, including Madrid and Barcelona.
In South Korea, which has the third-largest contingent of foreign troops in Iraq after the U.S. and Britain, up to 3,000 demonstrators were expected to gather Sunday at the main train station in the capital Seoul. In Malaysia’s largest city, Kuala Lumpur, a rally was planned outside the U.S. Embassy on Sunday, as part of the international anti-Iraq war movement.