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Volume 2, Number 50              January 26 - February 1, 2003            Quezon City, Philippines







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A world against the war

Washington leads demos across globe; Blix heads for Iraq as threat of conflict grows; Blair tries to calm rebels

By Andy McSmith, Political Editor
The Independent

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In the biggest day of protest the world has yet seen against a war in Iraq, from Washington to Tokyo, Liverpool to Damascus, hundreds of thousands of demonstrators across four continents took to the streets yesterday.

The US was the scene of the biggest anti-war demonstration of George Bush's presidency, with tens of thousands of people braving freezing weather to join protests in Washington, San Francisco and other cities, despite the near-unanimous support for war on Capitol Hill and in the US media.

There was also a series of smaller anti-war demonstration in Great Britain, including a two-hour protest outside the Permanent Joint Headquarters of the British Armed Forces in Northwood, north London. There were anti-war rallies or vigils in Bradford, Bristol, Hereford, Liverpool and Glasgow.

There were similar demonstrations across France and Germany, in Russia, Ireland, New Zealand, Japan, Pakistan and in the Middle East. One of the largest was in the Syrian capital, Damascus.

The protests were made against the background of a continuous build-up of troops in the Gulf, and renewed political pressure on the Iraqi government to surrender any weapons of mass destruction.

General Richard Myers, chairman of the US Military Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in Rome that the build-up to war was "totally reversible."

"The key to that is the Iraqi regime itself," he added. "They hold the keys to whether or not there's going to be conflict."

This was reinforced by a warning from United Nations weapons inspectors that they expected more cooperation from the Iraqi government.

The chief UN inspector, Hans Blix, and International Atomic Energy Agency director-general, Mohamed El Baradei, are due in Baghdad today for two days of talks.

Mr Blix, in Cyprus yesterday after meeting the Prime Minister, Tony Blair, at Chequers, said: "There has been access everywhere. But on substance there has not been sufficient cooperation. We need to have sincere and genuine cooperation."

The two officials are due to make their report to the UN Security Council on 27 January. Tony Blair has emphasised that this is not a "deadline" and may not be the end of the inspection process.

Mr Blair is under growing domestic pressure, particularly from within the Labour Party, not to involve the UK in a pre-emptive strike against Iraq. Members of Labour's ruling national executive are hoping to push through a resolution at its meeting on 28 January, calling on the UK government not to involve British troops in a war unless it has been directly sanctioned by the UN Security Council.

Privately, British ministers are confident that the UN will pass a second resolution condemning Iraq if its government is found to be concealing weapons of mass destruction. British diplomatic activity has been aimed at persuading the US government not to act alone.

Jack Straw will visit New York tomorrow for talks with other foreign ministers about combating terrorism, and will return to the US on Wednesday to meet the Secretary of State, Colin Powell. Tony Blair meets George Bush at Camp David on 31 January.

Iraq has also been conducting a diplomatic campaign to win sympathy across the Muslim world. The Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister, Tariq Aziz, met Libya's President Muammar Gaddafi yesterday as part of a week-long North African tour. He left Libya shortly before the arrival of Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak, who is also seeking a way to avoid war.

The US anti-war movement has attracted support from Vietnam veterans and celebrities including the civil rights leader Jesse Jackson and the actor Martin Sheen. British campaigners include the veteran politician Tony Benn, writers Salman Rushdie and Iain Banks, and actresses Julie Christie and Juliet Stevenson.

2002 Independent Digital (UK) Ltd

January 19, 2003 

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