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Friday, 14 February, 2003, 21:03 GMT
Australia launches anti-war protests
Anti-war demonstrators in Melbourne
Protesters slammed US-led war plans
Around 150,000 people have taken to the streets of Melbourne to protest against a possible war with Iraq, kicking off a weekend of marches around the world.

It is the biggest peace protest in Australia since anti-Vietnam War demonstrations 30 years ago.

This is a huge statement by the people of Melbourne, and the people of Australia to John Howard - that he's gone the wrong way and should turn around

Greens Senator Bob Brown

Hundreds of other anti-war protests are scheduled for this weekend, the biggest of which are likely to be in London and Rome. Organisers predict at least half a million demonstrators will turn out in each city.

Other major marches are planned for Dublin and San Francisco to campaign against increasing moves towards a war to rid Baghdad of its alleged weapons of mass destruction and unseat Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

Caricatures of John Howard and George W Bush are carried by protestors
The Melbourne march kicks off a weekend of protests

Also on Friday, Greenpeace activists blocked a supply ship chartered by the US army in the northern Belgian port of Antwerp.

Around 40 activists on speedboats, canoes and pontoons had encircled the Catherine on which jeeps, tanks and other military vehicles were visible, Greenpeace spokesman Jan Vande Putte said.

In Asia, weekend protests are planned for Tokyo, Bangkok and Hong Kong, as well as around India and Pakistan.

Global protests

Anti-war sentiment has even reached the tiny South Pacific island nation of Fiji, where an anti-war group sent floral messages to foreign embassies urging them to put pressure on the US and its allies to avoid war.

Further protests are planned around Australia, where Prime Minister John Howard is a staunch supporter of possible US intervention and has already committed 2,000 military personnel to the Gulf.

Greens Senator Bob Brown said the turn-out in Melbourne - put at more than 200,000 by organisers - showed Mr Howard did not have public backing.

"This is a huge statement by the people of Melbourne, and the people of Australia to John Howard - that he's gone the wrong way and should turn around," Mr Brown told the crowd.

Mr Howard is in Indonesia on Friday, where he was expected to reassure the Muslim nation's President Megawati Sukarnoputri that the Iraq campaign is not motivated by anti-Islamic feelings.

The Melbourne rally started with the sound of mock air raid sirens, symbolising air attacks on Baghdad, with participants carrying placards reading 'No blood for oil', and 'Don't bomb Iraq'.

A British anti-war demonstrator prepares placards
A major protest is planned for London

Saturday's planned march in London could become the country's biggest-ever anti-war protest, according to organisers.

In the Scottish city of Glasgow, activists will march on an exhibition centre where Prime Minister Tony Blair - President George W Bush's strongest ally over Iraq - is due to address a political conference.

Protests are already beginning in Britain, with 70 actors from stage musicals gathering in London to sing Seasons of Love from the show Rent.

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 ON THIS STORY
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14 Feb 03 | Middle East
14 Feb 03 | Entertainment
13 Feb 03 | Middle East
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