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Thousands Protest Iraq War in London

Thousands of anti-war demonstrators took to the streets in London on Sunday to demand the withdrawal of British troops in Iraq, amid reports that Britain was considering sending some 600 soldiers to Baghdad area to bolster US operations.

The protest, organized by the Stop The War Coalition, was the climax of a three-day European Social Forum in London attended by environmental and peace campaigners, politicians and trade unionists.

Organizers were hoping about 50,000 people would turn up for the march between Russell Square and Trafalgar Square in a bid to end the conflict in Iraq.

"Most people feel that until this illegal occupation is ended, there will not be peace in Iraq," a spokeswoman for the Stop The War Coalition was quoted by the Sky TV as saying.

Paul Bigley, brother of British engineer Kenneth Bigley who was killed on Oct. 8 by a group thought to be led by al-Qaida suspect Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, earlier urged people to join the demonstration.

The march comes amid reports that the United States wants some British troops based in southern Iraq to "back fill" in the area around Baghdad, releasing its forces there to join the expected assault on Fallujah. It was feared that the British troops would be placed under US command for the duration of the operation.

About 9,000 British troops have been based in the relatively quiet Basra area of southern Iraq.

(Xinhua News Agency October 18, 2004)

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