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Europeans stage war protest

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Europeans stage war protest

By David Holley and Maria De Cristofaro, Los Angeles Times, 11/10/2002

ROME - Hundreds of thousands of activists from across Europe marched peacefully through Florence yesterday in a long-planned antiglobalization protest that became a festive rally against a possible US-led war on Iraq.

Headed by a banner proclaiming ''No War,'' the march came a day after the UN Security Council voted unanimously to give Iraq ''a final opportunity'' to disarm or face ''serious consequences.'' Police estimated the crowd at 450,000. Many of the participants came on chartered buses and special trains.

The march was the focal point of a five-day gathering of activists who argue that global trade and international corporations work against the welfare of the world's poor and the earth's environment. Although sentiment against an Iraq war was already high, it was the timing of the Security Council's action that turned the march into an antiwar rally.

Many protesters said that Washington's real goal in Iraq is to control its oil.

''Stop Global War,'' ''Drop Bush, Not Bombs,'' and ''Thank You, Florence'' were among the sentiments displayed on posters and banners in various languages. Some depicted President Bush as Hitler and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi as Mussolini.

Many shop owners had shuttered their doors and windows in fear of violence, but some residents along the chilly route offered glasses of water to the marchers and cheered them on. Others stood on balconies smiling and enjoying the colorful scene.

Marchers were of all ages and ranged from veteran activists to first-time protesters. There were pensioners, middle-aged homemakers, members of Roman Catholic youth groups, representatives of unions and political parties, street entertainers, and plenty of young people out for fun.

Some youths sported hair dyed pink or other bright colors, and some protesters were dressed as clowns or chose to roller-blade the 4-mile route along the Arno River. Marchers sang communist anthems and 1970s peace songs and shouted ''Hands off the Middle East!'' and ''The real terrorist is the West!'' Some beat drums or blew whistles. The prominent French farm activist Jose Bove showed up on a tractor.

''We are against a preventive war, against the Bush administration, and we will do everything we can to prevent a new war and military intervention in Iraq,'' said Vannino Chiti, a coordinator for participants from the Democrats of the Left, the country's largest opposition party.

Sergio Cofferati, a former head of CGIL, Italy's biggest trade union, told reporters that politicians must pay more attention to what the antiglobalization movement is saying.

''An equal relationship based on mutual respect is required with these movements,'' said Cofferati, viewed by many as a potential future leader of the center-left in Italy. ''Political forces and especially the left would be making a mistake if they failed to listen.''

One tense moment, reported by the Italian news service Ansa, came when scores of hooded, masked protesters dressed in black gathered outside a multinational pharmaceutical and biotech research firm. But the protesters limited themselves to pasting a black banner on a wall of the building.

Berlusconi had said it was ''risky'' to allow the event to take place in art-rich Florence. But his government eventually approved, and the country tightened border controls in recent days in an effort to keep out individual protesters identified by authorities as potentially violent.

Thousands of police were on duty for the march but kept a low profile. Organizers had agreed to a route that avoided the historic center of the Renaissance city filled with cultural treasures.

Italian authorities had feared a repeat of the violent demonstrations that marred a Group of 8 summit in the northwestern city of Genoa last year, when clashes between police and antiglobalization protesters left one demonstrator dead and hundreds injured.

This story ran on page A27 of the Boston Globe on 11/10/2002.

© Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company.

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