Anti-war protests around the world

Issue 

BY NORM DIXON Picture

While mainstream media reports from Pakistan have concentrated on demonstrations by Islamic fundamentalists, the country's left and democratic movements are also mobilising against the war.

On October 15, police in the Punjabi city of Lahore stopped 1000 supporters of the Labour Party Pakistan from rallying in opposition to the war, Amir Suhail reports from the city.

Police moved in before the rally had reached its scheduled destination, telling organisers that a religious fundamentalist group had taken over the Mall Road and that any march on the area would result in a violent clash.

Organisers said they wanted to go on anyway, but police prevented them from marching any further. Picture

Earlier, the LPP peace rally started with red flags and banners demanding US imperialism stop the war. Rallygoers, half of whom were women, raised slogans against the bombing attacks and against the terrorism of the religious fundamentalists, including "American gangsters go back" and "We want bread instead of bombs".

Speaking to the crowd, Neelum Hussain of the Women's Action Forum condemned the bombing of innocent Afghan people and said that the US has no right to kill people.

"We have no sympathies with the terrorists", she said, "but there are other ways to deal with them, instead of bombing Afghan cities."

Labour Party Pakistan chairperson Shoaib Bhatti told the rally that the imperialist strategy is "terrorism to stop terrorism" and warned that it will not solve anything.

To kill innocent people in the name of maintaining peace is an insult to the word peace, he said. Picture

Two days later, on October 17, over 500 people demonstrated on the main Mall Road of Lahore to demand an immediate end to war and to oppose religious fanaticism.

The peace rally was organised by Citizen Peace Alliance and involved many different groups including peasants' organisations, trade union activists, civil society organisations and activists of the Labour Party Pakistan.

The demonstrators raised slogans like "Down with American imperialism", "We are with the Afghan people", "An immediate end to war", "We want bread instead of bombs" and "Struggle is our path, revolution is our goal".

Irfan Mufti of the South Asia Partnership told the rally: "We want no Americans in this part of the world. We are totally opposed to the imperialist aggression and are in solidarity with Afghan people. We are also opposed to the religious fundamentalists and our demo has nothing to do with the demonstrations of the fundamentalists."

Farooq Tariq, general secretary of the Labour Party Pakistan, told the demonstrators that he condemned the imperialist aggression and said it was the US which was responsible for harbouring religious fundamentalism in this area.

In another historic development for the peace movement, 85 representatives of the various coalition members of Joint Action Committee for Peoples' Rights have called a national peace demonstration for November 6 in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad.

Civil society organisations from the North West Frontier Province told a meeting of the coalition how their offices and houses have been burned down by supporters of the Taliban and how the government failed to protect them from the attacks. Coalition members are determined to carry on with their plans despite the attempts to terrorise them.

The Labour Party Pakistan has also called two more peace demonstrations, one on November 4 in Hyderabad, in Sind province, and the second on November 13 in the southern port city of Karachi.

Pakistan is not the only place where large protests have taken place. While the capitalist mass media may not be giving them much coverage, mass protests against the US-led war on Afghanistan are proliferating across the world. Some of the biggest have taken place in Europe.

In what has been described as one of the biggest demonstrations of its kind in Italy, on October 16 a crowd estimated at between 200,000 and 300,000 people joined a peace walk from Perugia to Assisi.

Waving placards and banners declaring "Stop War!", singing anti-war songs and shouting chants condemning the US and British air strikes, the marchers stretched 24 kilometres.

The road travelled was the same taken by Saint Francis of Assisi, founder of the Franciscan order. The peace march has been held annually since 1961, when it was initiated by the Italian left. Not since the Cold War years have so many people joined it.

The march was supported by the Roman Catholic Church. Marchers included Francesco Rutelli, who led the left-wing alliance in legislative elections earlier this year, and former prime minister Massimo D'Alema.

The size of the march was boosted because it coincided with the visit of Italy's far-right prime minister to Washington for talks with US President George Bush. Protesters turned out in massive numbers in response to Silvio Berlusconi's statement that Western "civilisation" was superior to that of the Islamic world.

"Why are the Americans doing this? We feel sorry for those who perished in the attacks against the World Trade Center and the perpetrators of these crimes must be punished. But what has the poor man in Afghanistan whose five-year-old boy has been killed done to deserve the wrath of America?", asked a retired schoolteacher from Como who made the trip to Perugia.

Protests were also held throughout Italy on October 13. More than 2000 participated in Naples.

In London on October 13, a gathering estimated by organisers at 50,000 marched from Hyde Park to Trafalgar Square to protest the British Labour government's support for, and participation in, Washington's war. The march was organised by the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and the Stop the War Coalition.

Large numbers of young people participated and the Muslim community was well represented. Trade union banners were very prominent. The October 12 British Guardian carried a statement against the war signed by almost 40 leading trade union officials. This prompted several other unions to issue statements of their own.

A protest of 5000 was held in Glasgow on October 13.

In Germany, according to organisers, around 100,000 protesters took to the streets on October 13 to call for an end to US attacks on Afghanistan.

The largest turnout was in the capital, Berlin, where 50,000 people from peace, student and church groups, as well as some trade unions, protested in the central Gendarme Platz square under the slogan, "No war, Stand up for peace". In Stuttgart, 25,000 protesters gathered. Protests took place in many other towns and cities.

According to Victor Grossman, who reported on the rally for the left-wing Portside information service, "many placards condemned the German coalition [Germany's government is a coalition of the Social Democratic Party (SPD) and the Greens] ... for blindly supporting George W. Bush's war and arming for more military [adventures] around the world."

Two of the Berlin protesters, Birgitte Apel and Bernd Selle, told the October 14 New York Times they were appalled the government is seeking "some way for the German military to use its guns in Afghanistan, just to try to prove a point".

"It would be one thing if the [right-wing] Christian Democrats were doing this", Selle said. "But that the SPD and the Greens are, it's terrible."

The Party of Democratic Socialism, the only party in Germany to oppose the war explicitly, is expected to do well in local Berlin elections on October 21 because of its stand against the war. Opinion polls show that 40% of the German population oppose the bombing.

In Sweden, several thousand people marched in the country's three biggest cities on October 13. In Switzerland, police estimated a protest in the capital, Berne, at 5000.

In the United States, well-known consumer rights campaigner, social justice advocate and former presidential candidate for the US Green Party Ralph Nader has attacked the US bombing campaign against Afghanistan.

Addressing a crowd of 1500 in San Francisco's Masonic Auditorium on October 11, Nader decried the Bush administration's emphasis on a military response to the September 11 mass murders in New York and Washington and US lawmakers' acquiescence to the White House's assault on civil liberties.

The bombing will give the Muslim world another reason to hate America, Nader said. US policies in the Middle East — such as Washington's support for Saudi Arabia's repressive regime and sanctions on Iraq, which have created misery for its civilian population — have alienated the Arab people, he noted. Bombing Afghanistan will only hurt the weakest people, "thus giving terrorists the images they need to recruit more killers".

The US anti-war coalition, Act Now to Stop War and End Racism (ANSWER), has called an international day of action for October 27. Demonstrations and teach-ins will be held throughout the US, and the world, on that day.

Protests were reported across Asia and the Middle East on October 12. In Malaysia, police sprayed tear gas mixed with water to disperse 2500 supporters of a Muslim opposition party demonstrating peacefully outside the US embassy in Kuala Lumpur.

In India, police fired tear gas and used water cannon to disperse thousands protesting against the US-British attacks on Afghanistan. About 10,000 demonstrated in New Delhi. In the eastern city of Calcutta, 4000 Muslims gathered.

In Iran, more than 20,000 people in the capital, Tehran, took part in the country's largest anti-Western demonstration since the US began air strikes on Afghanistan.

In Ramallah, Palestine, Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti led 1000 marchers. About 2000 Palestinians took part in a march in Nablus that was dominated by the Islamic militant group Hamas.