Arab world silent while ‘in a coma’ Millions march [Archives:2003/07/Front Page]

February 17 2003

Millions of protesters took to the streets around the world on Saturday to urge the United States to give peace a chance and not to rush into war with Iraq.
In the biggest demonstration of “People Power” since the Vietnam War, peace campaigners from Antarctica to Iceland poured scorn on President Bush’s hawkish stance.
While the Arab world was largely quiet, as it celebrated the end of Eid, Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh did urge Arab countries to adopt a stronger stand against a possible US-led war on Iraq.
“We should have played a pioneering role in this anti-war campaign and should have requested support from the Europeans and others,” he said Friday.
Saleh, who was in Saudi Arabia to perform Haj said, “Not only Yemen but also all Arab and Islamic countries are against war and they call for peace.”
He said a stronger Arab stand will strengthen the ongoing French, German, Russian, Belgian and Chinese initiatives to avert war.
He said Arab and Islamic countries wanted the UN inspectors to be given more time to find out if Iraq actually possesses weapons of mass destruction.
Asked whether Yemen would take part in the proposed emergency Arab summit, he said it would depend on the summit’s agenda. “We support Arab summits having an agenda agreed in advance,” he added.
While global protests swelled on Saturday, the voice of discent was muted in the Middle East.
Protests planned in Cairo were limited by a huge security presence. Security was visibly beefed up in central Cairo, notably around the U.S. and British embassies.
Apart from the earlier demonstrations in Bahrain and Yemen recently, there have not been large anti-war protests in the conservative Gulf Arab region.
That prompted the United Arab Emirates al-Bayan newspaper to comment: “Today, the people of the world and more than one million Europeans demonstrate against an attack on Iraq while the Arab people and their leaders are in a deep coma.”
In London, protesters streamed into the capital for a march that reached 750,000 to 1 million people, in the biggest peace rally in British political history.
Hundreds of thousands also attended a rally in the center of Berlin.
“We haven’t seen anything comparable in Germany since the 1980s,” organizer Malte Kreutzfeldt said. “And it will be the first global demonstration of such a scale,” he added.
In Italy, tens of thousands of people, from dreadlocked teenagers to graying pensioners gathered in Rome for a peace march expected to draw more than one million people.
“I look at Bush but see Hitler,” proclaimed the banner of a Bulgarian protester in Sofia.
“The whole world is against this war. Only one person wants it,” said Muslim teenager Bilqees Gamieldien as she protested in the South African city of Cape Town.
“What the United States is doing now is wrong. We are on the brink of World War Three,” said Japanese housewife Mariko Ayama at a Tokyo rally.
One Russian protester’s banner in Moscow showed a photograph of the U.S. president with the words: “Butcher: Get out of other people’s lands.”
Massive rallies were staged around the globe, with more than 600 cities and towns pledging to join in.
The protesters received a boost on Friday when U.N chief weapons inspector Hans Blix told the United Nations he held out hope arms inspections in Iraq were working.
And the rallies offered a boost to Iraq’s own cause.
Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tareq Aziz, in the Italian city of Assisi to pray at the tomb of St. Francis, said: “The people of Iraq want peace and millions of people around the world are demonstrating for peace, so let us all work for peace and resist the war.”
“This is a day all good women and men in the world will show the protest against the war of George W. Bush,” he told Reuters. “Our hearts are with them.”In Australia, about 16,000 activists gathered in the capital Canberra a day after about 150,000 protested in the southern city of Melbourne in what was Australia’s largest protest since the anti-Vietnam War marches of 30 years ago.
In nuclear-free New Zealand, several thousand people marched through the center of the nation’s main city Auckland, while a plane trailed a giant banner reading “No war, peace now.”
“Stop the war!”More than 2,000 South Koreans gathered in the capital Seoul, shouting “Bush, terrorist!” and “Stop the war!.”In mainly Muslim Malaysia, about 500 protesters protested outside the U.S. embassy in Kuala Lumpur. Protesters waved placards reading “Drop Bush not bombs,” “No war for oil” and depicting Bush with yellowing missiles for teeth.
Pakistani protesters carried white flags and placards that read “No to war, yes to peace” and “Bush and Blair are terrorists.”
In Europe, the same message echoed across the continent.
In the French city of Toulouse, marchers walked in the cold winter sunshine under banners reading: “No blood in the oil,” and “No to war for petrol.”
In Croatia, several hundred masked protesters burned the American flag in front of the U.S. embassy in Zagreb.
In Moscow, about 400 people, hoisting aloft anti-war banners and chanting “No to war in Iraq,” marched from Russia’s Foreign Ministry building to the U.S. embassy in a communist-led protest at U.S. policy on Iraq.