Anti-War Protests Worldwide Ahead of Key Iraq Talks
Sat January 18, 2003 06:23 AM ET
By Steve Holland and Andrew Hammond
WASHINGTON/BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Protesters opposed to war on Iraq gathered for mass demonstrations around the world on Saturday as U.N. arms chiefs traveled to Baghdad to tell its leaders cooperation was the only way to avoid armed conflict.
With Washington massing troops and equipment in the Gulf and Iraq declaring itself mobilized for battle, thousands of demonstrators in the United States, Britain, Japan, France, Syria, Russia, Italy, Yemen, Ireland, Cyprus and Pakistan took to the streets to say "no" to war.
"There's been too much capital invested in this war for it not to happen. But we're making our position clear, we're saying 'no'. There are people speaking out on this all over the world now, and we're part of it," said Adam Conway, 24, an activist living at a peace camp near Shannon Airport in Ireland.
President Bush has said he will lead a "coalition of the willing" to force Iraq to give up its alleged weapons of mass destruction if Baghdad does not cooperate with U.N. arms inspectors.
Secretary of State Colin Powell told a German daily that Washington believed by the end of January there would be "a persuasive case" Iraq was not cooperating.
The White House has also seized on the discovery of empty chemical warheads in Iraq as evidence of noncompliance, calling the weapons cache "serious and troubling," though U.N. weapons chief Hans Blix played down the significance of the find.
Pleading for the White House to back down and let inspections run their course, tens of thousands of people were expected to protest in Washington and San Francisco on Saturday in the largest anti-war demonstrations since Bush began making a case against Iraq last year.
"Bush has said that he intends to launch a pre-emptive war, and now he's facing the most formidable obstacle, which is a pre-emptive anti-war movement," said Washington lawyer Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, who is helping to organize the protests.
U.N. arms experts pushed ahead with their intensified search for banned weapons in Iraq on Saturday, inspecting mobile laboratories, state companies and colleges.
Blix and International Atomic Energy Agency Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei are due in Baghdad on Sunday for two days of talks aimed at averting war.
The weapons chiefs, who were due to arrive in Cyprus on Saturday before heading for Iraq, have said Iraq has opened doors to inspectors but has not been "proactive" enough. They have also said gaps exist in Iraq's 12,000-page weapons declaration submitted to the United Nations in December.
"There is not yet confidence, there is not yet certainty that all the chemical and biological weapons and missiles are gone and that all the equipment is gone. And it is above all for Iraq to demonstrate that everything has been done away with," Blix said in Paris on Friday.
ElBaradei added: "That is the clear message we are sending to Baghdad next week. Cooperate and there is a positive outcome for you, and if you do not, unfortunately the consequences will not be very pleasant."
On January 27, Blix and ElBaradei are due to deliver a key report to the U.N. Security Council on what inspectors have found since returning to Iraq in November after a four-year absence.
The United States has called that "an important date" and while maintaining no decision has been made to go to war Washington has also said it would not need a second U.N. resolution to authorize war with Iraq if it is found to be in material breach of U.N. Resolution 1441, which cleared the way for the return of inspectors.
With the clock ticking on a possible war with Iraq, those opposed to an attack have mobilized with a new sense of urgency.
In Britain, Washington's staunchest ally against Iraq, demonstrations were planned in London, Birmingham, Manchester and Nottingham.
Egyptian demonstrators planned a second day of protests in Cairo calling on their government to prevent U.S. and British warships from using the Suez Canal.
Thousands of Japanese gathered in central Tokyo to protest a possible war in Iraq and in the Pakistani city of Rawalpindi, a few thousand people formed a human chain to condemn any U.S.-led attack.
In France, where President Jacques Chirac said a unilateral attack by Washington on Iraq would violate international law, left-wing parties, trade unions and peace groups planned to hold demonstrations in Paris and several provincial cities.
And in Cyprus, anti-war demonstrators were gathering signatures.
"We believe a war will take place. The U.N. inspectors are Bush and (British Prime Minister Tony) Blair's fig leaf for an attack and let's not kid ourselves, their main interests are Iraq's oil reserves," Phaedonas Vassiliades told Reuters.
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