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Tens of thousands protest Iraq policy in Washington
( 2003-10-26 11:10) (Reuters)

Tens of thousands of protesters marched around the White House on Saturday in the first large-scale demonstration against the occupation of Iraq by U.S.-led forces since President Bush declared an end to major combat.

The protesters, waving placards demanding the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq, gathered at a rally at the Washington Monument before moving toward the White House.

Peace activists, joined by family members of U.S. troops, said the mounting casualties in Iraq had helped spur the U.S. anti-war movement into action after months of relative quiet.

"We need to make President Bush realize that our children are being killed," said Fernando de Solar Suarez, whose son, a Marine, was killed in Iraq on March 27.

Since May 1, when Bush stood on the deck of an aircraft carrier and declared major combat in the Iraq war over, 108 U.S. soldiers have been killed in guerrilla attacks.

Many of the protesters said they felt the cost of the Iraq occupation in American lives was too high and the billions of U.S. dollars being spent on reconstructing the country's shattered economy could be put to better use at home.

"We need to quit worrying about the ills of other countries and to stop spending billions of dollars on Iraq when we need money for jobs here," said Washington resident Erik Jurek, who added that he was worried about his brother serving in the U.S. Army in Baghdad.

United for Peace and Justice, which coordinated the protest with International ANSWER (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism), estimated that 100,000 people from more than 145 cities attended the demonstration. Police on the streets put the number closer to 20,000 or 30,000. Washington police do not provide official crowd estimates at public protests.

ANSWER spokesman Brian Becker said the demonstration was intended to send a message to the Bush administration that its position was "losing ground" while they were gaining.

Polls have shown a steady slide in Bush's approval rating since May, when it was around 80 percent. According to a CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll this month, 56 percent of Americans surveyed approved of the way Bush leading the country.


The call to pull U.S. troops out of Iraq was echoed in San Francisco, where several thousand anti-war protesters crowded into a plaza in front of City Hall.

The rally, to be followed by a march to a nearby park, was peaceful, in contrast to past demonstrations in the city, which have ended with hundreds of arrests.

"We must stop the war now, get our troops home, and deny Bush any credibility so he can't take us into another war," said John Scanlon, a former Marine who served in Vietnam and came from San Diego with a group of other veterans.

In Washington, the air was almost festive as the crowd marched through the streets chanting "End the Occupation! Bring them home now!" and singing.

One man sold T-shirts that read "Osama bin Rumsfeld," depicting the Defense Secretary wearing a head covering similar to many pictures of the al Qaeda leader bin Laden.

Others held pink balloons that read "Weapons of Mass Destruction: A lot of hot air!." Some people were accompanied by their children and a few brought their dogs.

Dozens of families from as far away as California, Texas and Maine came for the demonstration, said Nancy Lessin, of the group Military Families Speak Out.

"Something we have to realize is there might not be a good solution in Iraq. There might not be democracy with or without Americans," said South Carolina teacher Michael Berg, who favors a greater role for the United Nations (news - web sites) in Iraq.

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