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Protestors Rally to Mark Iraq War Anniversary
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Denouncing a conflict entering its fifth year, protestors across the United States raised their voices against US policy in Iraq and marched by the thousands to the Pentagon in the footsteps of an epic demonstration four decades ago against another divisive war.

Counterprotests were staged, too, on a day of dueling signs and sentiments such as "Illegal Combat" and "Peace Through Strength," and songs like The Battle Hymn of the Republic and War (What's It Good For?).

Thousands crossed the Potomac River from the Lincoln Memorial to rally loudly but peacefully near the Pentagon. "We're here in the shadow of the war machine," said anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan, the mother of a soldier killed in Iraq. "It's like being in the shadow of the Death Star. They take their death and destruction and they export it around the world. We need to shut it down."

Smaller protests were held on Saturday in other US cities, stretching to tomorrow's four-year anniversary of the Iraq invasion. In Los Angeles, Vietnam veteran Ed Ellis, 59, hoped the demonstrations would be the "tipping point" against a war that has killed more than 3,200 US troops and engulfed Iraq in a deadly cycle of violence.

"It's all moving in our direction, it's happening," he predicted at the Hollywood rally. "The administration, their get-out-of-jail-free card, they don't get one anymore."

Other protests - and counter-demonstrations were held in San Francisco, San Diego, Fayetteville, North Carolina, and Hartford, Connecticut, where more than 1,000 rallied at the Old State House.

"Bring my Dad home now," read a flourescent pink sign held up by 11-year-old Griffin Allen, of Fayetteville, who attended the protest by hundreds of people near the Fort Bragg US Army base with her grandmother.

"It's been tough," she said. "We get to talk once a week. ... I try to make life here sound good because I don't want him to worry too much."

Meanwhile, tens of thousands marched in Madrid as Spaniards called not only for the US to get out of Iraq but to close the prison for terrorist suspects at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. More than 3,000 people protested peacefully in Istanbul, Turkey, and about 1,000 in Athens, Greece.

In Japan, hundreds of protesters held a rally at a Tokyo park to protest the war, then marched through the center of the city.

Speakers at the Pentagon rally criticized the Bush administration at every turn but blamed congressional Democrats, too, for refusing to cut off money for the war.

"This is a bipartisan war," New York City labor activist Michael Letwin told the crowd. "The Democratic party cannot be trusted to end it."

Five people were arrested after the demonstration when they walked onto a bridge that had been closed off to accommodate the protest and then refused orders to leave so police could reopen it to traffic, Pentagon police spokeswoman Cheryl Irwin said. They were cited and released, she said.

President George W. Bush was at the presidential retreat in Camp David, Maryland, for the weekend. Spokesman Blair Jones said of the protests: "Our Constitution guarantees the right to peacefully express one's views. The men and women in our military are fighting to bring the people of Iraq the same rights and freedoms."

People traveled from afar in stormy weather to join the march. Protestors walked in a blustery, cold wind across the Potomac River with motorcycles clearing their way and police boats and helicopters watching.

Police no longer give official estimates but said privately that perhaps 10,000 to 20,000 anti-war demonstrators marched, with a smaller but still sizable number of counterprotesters also out in force.

An hour into the three-hour Pentagon rally, with the temperature near freezing, protesters had peeled away to a point where fewer than 1,000 were left.

(China Daily via agencies March 19, 2007)

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