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17.02.03: Tens of thousands take to the streets

No to War
Tens of thousands of protesters against the threat of war on Iraq took to the streets in cities and towns around Greece on Saturday as part of mass rallies worldwide to demonstrate against the US-instigated plan.

Flocking through the centre of Athens in a peaceful march were representatives of political parties, trade unions and peace groups, political leaders, political refugees, public figures and citizens, spanning children to pensioners.

Strewn with placards saying ''No to War'', ''Imperialism is the enemy'', and ''No bloodshed for war'', the orderly march to the US embassy was briefly disrupted by masked youths hurling firebombs into ministry premises near Syntagma Square and offices of the Ta NEA and To Vima newspapers.

Police dispersed the youths with teargas. A guard was slightly injured in the blaze, and an automobile wrecked.

''The people who inspired these attacks and carried them out, who tried to stir up trouble, will not succeed in overshadowing the magnificent, anti-war message sent out by today's rally,'' government spokesman Christos Protopappas said. ''We all must condemn this''.

Also criticizing the attacks was the main opposition New Democracy party.

In addition, youths belonging to a group named Action Thessaloniki 2003 burnt the UK flag in front of the country's city-centre embassy in a protest against the British government's backing for the US in a planned military attack on Iraq.

And at the tail end of the march near the US embassy, tens of youths attacked riot police with firebombs and rocks to break through a security cordon. Police guarding the embassy dispersed the group, and suspects were held for questioning.

Resounding through the city centre in a rally before the march was the voice of singer Maria Farantouri, internationally acknowledged for her renditions of works by Mikis Theodorakis.

Addressing the rally, composer Theodorakis said that he believed the last hope for humanity lay in the voice of the public, which had been heard simultaneously in 70 capitals around the world on Saturday, and reportedly in around 350 US cities.

A statement read to the rally called for a halt to the war plan, and the implementation of UN resolutions, also asking the UN's Security Council to refrain from providing any justification for an attack. Protesters also sought a worldwide ban on nuclear, chemical and other weapons of mass destruction.

In the northern port city of Thessaloniki, demonstrators filled the centre, bringing traffic to standstill.

Three separate rallies culminated in a peaceful joint march to the US consulate, where protesters burned a US flag and carried a statement to the Macedonia Thrace ministry asking that Greece should keep out of a US-led war on Iraq.

At the end of the march, self-styled anarchists hurled rocks, oranges and bottles of water at storefronts and then at police, who used teargas to disperse the youths. Scuffles broke out in which TV crews had their equipment damaged.

Other towns staging anti-war rallies were Patras, Kavala, Irakleio, Hania, Trikala and Karditsa.

Political parties seek peace: The head of the ruling PASOK party's central committee, Costas Laliotis, took part in the march, telling reporters that a strong showing had been made by a public that backed democracy and peace, joining forces with millions of people in tens of countries and hundreds of cities around the world.

''We have joined forces to say yes to peace and no to war...We want to besiege (US president George) Bush and (Iraqi president) Saddam Hussein. Bush should not embark on unilateral military initiatives and intervention. We are saying no to the war,'' Laliotis said.

''In addition, Saddam Hussein must respect UN resolutions and decisions, and proceed to disarm Iraq in terms of weapons of mass destruction,'' he added.

Also taking part in the march were the head of the Communist Party of Greece, Aleka Papariga; the leader of the Coalition for the Left and Progress, Nikos Constantopoulos; and chief of the Democratic Social Movement, Dimitris Tsovolas, all of whom spoke out against the war. Also represented was the New Democracy (ND) party.

The secretary of ND's central committee, Evangelos Meimarakis, said that the party backed a peaceful solution to global rifts, attended by a respect for international legality and the implementation of UN Security Council decisions.

Speaking in Thessaloniki, Culture Minister Evangelos Venizelos said: ''Greece, also as (rotating) president of the European Union, is shouldering a very delicate and difficult role. Because currently the world community has to rescue the operation, prestige and stature of the United Nations; and the European countries in particular have to save and reshape their political physiognomy, and the possibility of a strategic role for the EU.''

''I don't know if we will avert the war, but what we must do is to protect conditions for peace,'' Venizelos added.

Journalists' union decries attack on newspaper office: Later in the day, the ESIEA journalists' union condemned the attack on offices of the Lambrakis Press Organization by masked youths, in which automobiles of staff members were wrecked.

''Not only was this an attack directed against a specific media group and against the freedom of speech. It was also an attack that undermined the normal operation of democracy and of the state, as well as the largest protest march that has ever taken place in Greece,'' the union said in a statement.

Athens, 17/02/2003 (ANA)

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