WASHINGTON – Anti-war groups (search) are planning their largest demonstrations since after the start of the war in Iraq, with thousands expected at rallies Saturday in Washington and San Francisco.
Protesters are expected from 140 cities in the United States and Canada, organizers said Tuesday. They hope to foment public pressure that will force the withdrawal of U.S. troops.
With Congress poised to authorize $87 billion for Iraq's reconstruction, "Now more than ever it is critical that we stand united in our effort to turn this all around," said Leslie Cagan, an organizer for United for Peace and Justice (search).
The protests are being organized by Cagan's group and also International ANSWER, or Act Now to Stop War and End Racism (search), which led earlier protests. Their largest was in January in Washington, where police said 30,000 participated. Organizers said nearly a half million protested.
The last protest in Washington, in late March, drew only a few thousand people. Organizers hope to attract far more this weekend.
Police are planning for more than 40,000. "We expect it's going to be a big day," said Sgt. Scott Fear, a Park Police spokesman. The department has canceled days off for its officers, and will have extra horse and motorcycle patrols.
Fear said organizers have been working with authorities, and the protests should be mostly peaceful.
In March, about 65 people were arrested after climbing police barricades closing off Lafayette Park, which is across Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House.
The protests in Washington are scheduled at 11 a.m. EDT at the Washington Monument, followed by a march to the White House and Justice Department at 1:30 p.m. Speakers will include former Attorney General Ramsey Clark, Martin Luther King III, Bob Edgar, president of the National Council of Churches, and Fernando Suarez del Solar, the father of a Marine who was killed in Iraq.
"We honor and support our troops, but we are deeply opposed to the mission on which President Bush has sent them," said Stephen Cleghorn of Washington, a member of Military Families Against the War. He said his stepson is serving with the Army in Baghdad.
Presidential candidate Al Sharpton and Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., will lead a Black Voices for Peace march.
In San Francisco, organizers are expecting thousands of protesters to participate in a 11 a.m. rally followed by a march through downtown.