SYDNEY, Australia – Tens of thousands of people gathered in downtown Sydney and around Australia on Sunday to protest possible war with Iraq and their country's involvement.
Police said there were at least 200,000 people in the Sydney protest, but admitted the crowd size was all but impossible to estimate because of the sheer mass of chanting, placard-waving people.
Protesters in wheelchairs and youths on skateboards and scooters joined in while others clapped and chanted "No war." Some sipped coffee as they walked, others had poodles tucked under their arms.
One man on stilts had dressed as President Bush. Others carried effigies depicting Bush and Prime Minister John Howard as his puppy, trailing behind him.
"He lied to us," technology sales woman Tracy James, 46, said of Howard. She wore a T-shirt that read "We need regime change ... in Washington."
Despite the huge turnout in Sydney and elsewhere, Howard said it didn't indicate widespread opposition to his unstinting support of the Washington's tough stance on Iraq.
"I don't know that you can measure public opinion just by the number of people who turn up to demonstrations," Howard told Australia's Channel 7 in an interview broadcast Sunday.
"This is not something where you read each opinion poll or you measure the number of people at demonstrations."
Howard gave the interview during a visit to Jakarta where he met Saturday with Indonesia's President Megawati Sukarnoputri.
Howard has already committed 2,000 military personnel to the Persian Gulf to prepare for a conflict. He has said he has not yet decided whether Australian troops would actually join a U.S. attack, but has not ruled out backing one, even without U.N. support.
One retired Labor lawmaker warned Howard he was ignoring the groundswell of opposition at his peril.
"If he's not prepared to listen, then he's on the path to the end of his political career," Laurie Brereton told the Sydney crowd.
There were frequent protests in the 1970s when Australian troops fought alongside U.S. forces in the Vietnam War.
Elsewhere in Australia on Sunday, about 50,000 people marched in the southern city of Adelaide, carrying banners pleading with Howard not to send Australia to war. A protest was also held in Brisbane, and about 2,000 people braved a monsoonal downpour in the northern city of Darwin.
The rallies followed similar events around the world Saturday. In Thailand, about 20,000 people gathered Sunday to protest the possibility of war. The demonstrations occurred in Pattani, the heartland of Thailand's minority Muslim population.
In his interview, Howard said that he considered Australia's security alliance with the United States strategically more important than that with the United Nations in shaping security and foreign policy.
He described the alliance with Washington as "the ultimate guarantee" in security.