Demonstrators Protest Iraq War

Published March 19, 2006

| Associated Press

The third anniversary of the U.S.-led war in Iraq drew tens of thousands of protesters around the globe, from hurricane-ravaged Louisiana to Australia, with chants of "Stop the War" and calls for the withdrawal of troops.

About 200 war veterans, hurricane survivors and demonstrators gathered Sunday at the Chalmette National Cemetery to protest how the military conflict overseas had hurt the country's ability to help the Gulf Coast recover from last year's hurricanes.

"We attacked a country who never did anything to us," said Philadelphia resident Al Zappala, whose 30-year-old son was killed in Iraq in April 2004.

He said his son joined the National Guard to help his community. "He was sent to Iraq based on lies," Zappala said.

Many of the weekend demonstrations across Australia, Asia and Europe drew smaller-than-anticipated crowds — far short of the millions worldwide who protested the initial invasion in March 2003 and the first anniversary in 2004.

Only about 200 joined a march Sunday down New York's Fifth Avenue, with signs including: "We the People Need to do More to End the War." Seventeen people were arrested for disorderly conduct, police said. Saturday's rally drew more than 1,000 people.

Anti-war rallies in Japan drew about 800 protesters chanting "No war! Stop the war!" and banging drums as they marched peacefully through downtown Tokyo toward the U.S. Embassy. A day earlier, about 2,000 rallied in the city.

"The Iraq war was President Bush's big mistake and the whole world is against him," said organizer Ayako Nishimura. "Iraq must decide its own affairs."

Protesters also gathered outside the U.S. Embassy in Malaysia, and at least 1,000 people turned out in Seoul, South Korea, which has the third-largest contingent of foreign troops in Iraq after the U.S. and Britain.

Joining the marchers in Chalmette was former Florida National Guard Staff Sgt. Camilo Mejia, a conscientious objector from Miami Beach, Fla., who was court-martialed and jailed for desertion.

"I joined the military because it seemed to offer stability and camaraderie," he said. "No soldier signs up for a war for oil."

His fellow demonstrators had set out Tuesday on a 140-mile march from Mobile, Ala., to New Orleans to draw attention both to the war and to the federal response to Hurricane Katrina.

David Cline, president of Veterans For Peace, said the nation can't have both "guns and butter," a reference to President Lyndon Johnson's statement that the country could fight the war in Vietnam and enjoy the good life at home.

"The reality is you get either A or B, you don't get A and B," he said.

President Bush marked the anniversary Sunday by touting the efforts to build democracy in Iraq. He avoided any mention of the continuing daily violence there and didn't utter the word "war."

"We are implementing a strategy that will lead to victory in Iraq," Bush said in a brief statement to reporters outside the White House.

Activist Cindy Sheehan, who energized the anti-war movement last summer with her monthlong protest outside Bush's Texas ranch, joined the Gulf Coast marchers in Mississippi on Friday, but left early Sunday for events in Washington.

"Katrina only happened because of the incompetence and callousness of the (Bush) administration, just as we've seen in Iraq," Sheehan said Sunday.

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