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 Saturday, 18 January, 2003, 21:15 GMT
Eyewitness: US anti-war protests
Anti-war protesters
Demonstrators travelled from all over America

It was one of the coldest days of the year in Washington, with the US capital still blanketed in a light covering of snow.

But nevertheless there was something of a carnival spirit on the huge Mall, between the US Congress and the White House, where the anti-war protesters were gathering.

Anti-war protester
The protesters were united by a common purpose
Pretzel sellers and those giving out anti-war buttons and posters mingled with Korean drummers, home-made posters, and life-size dolls of George Bush and Dick Cheney.

One group from Lansing, Michigan even brought its own full-size anti-war mural, with eight full-size silhouettes of Iraqi people covered by newsprint.

And colourful groups of demonstrators strolled past, including a Ben and Jerry's Ice Cream contingent, a pink-clad women's peace delegation, and groups in their state colours, from green jerseys from Vermont to bright orange banners from Florida.

Sending a message

Alan Kachic from Niagara Falls, New York, had just stepped off the bus after an eight-hour journey.

Peace slogans from the 1960s reappeared
Peace slogans from the 1960s reappeared
He told BBC News Online he had to come to Washington to show the world that the majority of the American people did not support the war, and that not all Americans were in sympathy with the stand taken by President George W Bush.

Chelsea Stanford, an 18 year-old student from the University of Wisconsin, had an even longer journey - travelling overnight to reach Washington.

Clutching her anti-war poster, she told the BBC that she and her friends wanted to make a difference - and they were worried that the Bush Administration's policy on war would mean that domestic priorities, like education would suffer.

Tuition was already was going up at her university, and student financial support was going down.

And for the Reverend Amy Stapleton, a Methodist minister from the big naval base of Norfolk, Virginia, it was her religious duty to oppose war.

There were groups from all around the country, including the Midwest and South.

Rachel Clark, a teacher from Houston, Texas, said she came because she wanted to make a difference and stop the war - and also wanted to speak up for the rights of the voiceless, including immigrants and Muslims in the US.

Conditional support

One group from Minnesota carried a banner honouring the memory of Paul Wellstone, the anti-war Democratic Senator who died in an accident just before the November elections.

A smaller group of pro-war demonstrators unfurled the flag
A smaller group of pro-war demonstrators unfurled the flag
In a close election, his successor's defeat helped the Republicans gain control of the Congress - and have put the anti-war movement in a difficult position, with few backers among mainstream politicians of either party.

The only Democratic hopeful for the Presidency who appeared on the platform at the anti-war protest was the Reverend Al Sharpton, the civil rights activist who has little chance of the nomination.

And despite the large numbers who came to Washington, public opinion is still divided on the potential war.

Most people would oppose unilateral US action against Iraq - but the majority would support military action if it was backed by the United Nations and other Allies, and based on evidence of concealed weapons found by the inspectors.

And those views may be shared by some of the protesters too.

Gil Bunto, a retail clerk from Long Branch, New Jersey, told the BBC that he thought the inspectors should be given time to finish the job, and he was concerned about the rush to war as thousands of US troops converged on the Gulf.

But he said that, if there was evidence of weapons of mass destruction, he might have to think again about his opposition to a war.

  The BBC's Gillian Ni Cheallaigh
"About 30,000 marched on Washington"

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18 Jan 03 | Middle East
18 Jan 03 | Americas
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