Anti-war campaigners around Australia are preparing for large protest rallies on March 17, the fourth anniversary of the US-led invasion of Iraq.
The rallies will be part of a global weekend of protest calling for all foreign troops to be withdrawn from Iraq. In Australia, the rallies and marches will also demand that David Hicks be brought home immediately.
This global mobilisation against war and occupation comes after some recent victories for the anti-war movement. This month, British Prime Minister Tony Blair announced the withdrawal of 1600 of the 7100 British troops in Iraq and Denmark said it will withdraw all of its troops. Australian PM John Howard is looking increasingly foolish and blood-thirsty to the people of Australia and the world.
The March 17 demonstration in Melbourne is being co-organised by the Stop the War Coalition (StWC) and Civil Rights Defence (CRD), the key local organisers of the Free David Hicks campaign. The demands of the rally are: Troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan, defend civil liberties — repeal the terror laws and Free David Hicks.
The action has been endorsed and financially supported by a wide range of organisations, including a growing list of trade unions, such as the Electrical Trades Union, the Maritime Union of Australia and the National Tertiary Education Union.
The protest organisers have also been getting a positive response to the publicity from the general public. Many participants at the 700-strong forum with John Pilger on February 8, the protest against US Vice-President Dick Cheney's visit to Australia and the 1500-strong March 1 public meeting addressed by Hicks's lawyer, Major Michael Mori, have said they will be joining the rally on March 17.
The speakers confirmed so far in Melbourne include representatives from the StWC, CRD, the Islamic Girls' and Women's Group, the Federation of Australian Muslim Students and Youth, the Socialist Alliance and the Palestinian-Australian community.
Melbourne StWC is considering organising a subsequent protest outside the 2007 Chief of Air Force Air Show Conference, which is to be opened by federal war minister Brendan Nelson. The coalition is also investigating possibilities for working with other peace groups to campaign against the planned new US spy base in Western Australia.
Buoyed by the success of the February 22 and 23 protest actions against Cheney's visit, the Sydney Stop the War Coalition is working towards a major rally on March 17.
"The treatment of David Hicks is a stark example of what the so-called war on terror means in terms of trampling on people's democratic rights", Pip Hinman from the StWC, told Green Left Weekly. "A lot of people have been inspired by the recent explosion of concern about David Hicks and see that this is a campaign we can win", added Hinman, who is also the Socialist Alliance candidate for the seat of Marrickville in the March 24 NSW election.
In an important indication of the growing public opposition to the occupation of Iraq, this year's anniversary rally is being supported by Unions NSW, which is advertising the protest among its affiliates and calling for broader support. The Maritime Union of Australia and the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union are the first two individual unions to endorse the Sydney rally, and others are being approached. The Greens and the Socialist Alliance have also endorsed the rally.
[See the advertisement on page 2 for details of the rallies in other cities.]