Saturday, March 17, 2007

DC Protest

War anniversary draws protesters to D.C. By LARRY MARGASAK and CALVIN WOODWARD, Associated Press Writers
41 minutes ago

Denouncing a conflict entering its fifth year, protesters raised their voices Saturday against U.S. policy in Iraq and marched by the thousands to the Pentagon in the footsteps of an epic demonstration four decades ago against another divisive war.

A counterprotest shadowed the anti-war crowd on a day of dueling signs and sentiments such as "Illegal Combat" and "Peace Through Strength," and songs like "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" and "War (What's It Good For?)."

Thousands crossed the Memorial Bridge over the Potomac River from the Lincoln Memorial to rally as close to the Pentagon as they could get. Smaller protests were organized across the country and held abroad, stretching to Tuesday's four-year anniversary of the Iraq invasion.

"Too many people have died and it doesn't solve anything," said Ann O'Grady, who drove through snow with her husband, Tom, and two children, 13 and 10, from Athens, Ohio. "I feel bad carrying out my daily activities while people are suffering, Americans and Iraqis."

Retired Marine Jeff Carroll, 47, an electrician in Milton, Del., held a sign saying: "Proud of our soldiers, ashamed of our president." Carroll said he served in Lebanon when the Marine barracks was bombed in a deadly attack in 1983, and thinks the U.S. should be focusing on Afghanistan and Osama bin Laden instead of Iraq. "We're fighting the wrong country."

Police on horseback and foot separated the two groups of demonstrators, who shouted at each other from opposite sides of Constitution Avenue in view of the Lincoln Memorial before the anti-war group marched. Barriers also kept them apart.

Protesters walked in a blustery, cold wind across the Potomac River with motorcycles clearing their way and police boats and helicopters watching.

The anti-war group carried signs saying "U.S. Out of Iraq Now," "Stop Iraq War, No Iran War, Impeach." The other side carried signs saying "al-Qaida Appeasers On Parade" and "Fight Jihad Not GIs."

Protesters met at the starting point of the Oct. 21, 1967, march on the Pentagon, which began peacefully but turned ugly in clashes between authorities and more radical elements of the estimated crowd of 50,000 on the plaza in front of the Defense Department's headquarters. More than 600 were arrested that day.

That protest has lived on in the popular imagination because of the crowd's attempts to lift the Pentagon off the ground with their chants; they fell short of their fanciful goal.

Organizers of the Saturday protest did not anticipate numbers comparable to those of the Vietnam era. Authorities no longer give crowd estimates publicly.

Veterans, some from the Rolling Thunder motorcycle group, lined up at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and waved U.S, POW-MIA and military-unit flags. Not all were committed to the U.S. course in Iraq, however.

"I'm not sure I'm in support of the war," said William "Skip" Publicover of Charleston, S.C., who was a swift boat gunner in Vietnam and lost two friends whose names are etched on the memorial's wall. "I learned in Vietnam that it's difficult if not impossible to win the hearts and minds of the people."

But Larry Stimeling, 57, a Vietnam veteran from Morton, Ill., said the loss of public support for the Iraq war mirrors what happened in Vietnam and leaves troops without the backing they need.

"We didn't lose the war in Vietnam, we lost it right here on this same ground," he said, pointing to the grass on the National Mall. "It's the same thing now."

Henry Sowell, 22, Raleigh N.C., who fought with the Marines in Iraq in 2005, asserted that anti-war protesters were "taking away what my buddies died for and what I fought for."

Some active-duty service members joined the anti-war protest, following rules that allow them to demonstrate but limit what they can say.

Speaking into a microphone hooked to massive speakers, Petty Officer Jonathan Hutto, who is on active duty with the Navy, told the crowd that the people had voted against the war in the November elections and "we're here to cash the check."

Rallies also were planned in Los Angeles, Denver, Chicago, Oklahoma City, Hartford, Conn., and Lincoln, Neb.

Overseas, more than 3,000 people protested peacefully in Istanbul, Turkey, and about 1,000 in Athens, Greece.


Associated Press writers Matthew Barakat and Ann Sanner contributed to this report.

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