Troop departure sparks protests



SYDNEY — Two hundred anti-war protesters gathered at Cawper Wharf, Woolloomooloo, on January 23, in a stormy protest against Australian involvement in a war on Iraq.

The protesters were responding to a call put out by anti-war groups the previous day, after Prime Minister John Howard announced the departure of 350 Australian navy and army personnel to the Persian Gulf. While the protest took place, Howard and opposition leader Simon Crean farewelled the troops on board the HMAS Kanimbla.

Protesters carried placards and banners that read "Send Howard, not the troops", "No Australian involvement", and simply "No!".

The protest was addressed by Reverend Ray Richmond of the Wayside Chapel, Socialist Alliance candidate for Port Jackson Paul Benedek, Greens senator Kerry Nettle, newly elected Greens MP Michael Organ, Walk Against the War spokesperson Nick Everett and Friends of the Earth campaigner John Hallam. A variety of unionists also addressed the protest, including NSW Labor Council campaigns officer Amanda Tattersall and Public Sector Association state secretary Maurie O'Sullivan.

Benedek told the protesters, "while Howard talks of an alliance of the willing, you represent an alliance of the unwilling. Howard has made this decision to send the troops at the expense of our schools, our hospitals and our social services."

Nettle called on Howard to hold the debate on Australian involvement that he had promised.

Everett stated that "our protest today is not against the troops on board that ship. It is against the government that is sending them to war."

Everett read excerpts from a statement by 28 US military veterans. The statement called on troops to resist against their deployment to Iraq.

The Walk Against the War Coalition is planning a mass rally on February 16 as part of a global weekend of action. The rally will take place at noon in Hyde Park North and will feature renowned journalist John Pilger, Reverend Ray Richmond, National Union of Students NSW President Anna York and representatives of the Australian Council of Trade Unions, the Arabic Communities Council and the arts community.

After some debate at the last meeting of the coalition, it was also agreed to invite representatives of three political parties: the Greens, the ALP and the Australian Democrats. Senator Bob Brown has agreed to speak on behalf of the Greens.

The coalition will be maintaining a weekly vigil outside Sydney Town Hall on Fridays between 5 and 8pm. To obtain posters or leaflets for the February 16 rally, or get in touch with a local anti-war group, call 0409 762 081, 0418 668 098 or (02) 9386 1240.

From Green Left Weekly, January 29, 2003.

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