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[casi] Half-A-Million March in Anti-War Rally in Italy

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      Half-A-Million March in Anti-War Rally in Italy
      Last Updated: November 09, 2002 01:56 PM ET
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      By Luke Baker

      FLORENCE, Italy (Reuters) - More than half a million anti-war protesters from across Europe 
marched through this Italian Renaissance city on Saturday in a loud and colorful demonstration 
denouncing any possible U.S. attack on Iraq.

      Brimming with anti-American feelings and riled by a tough new U.N. resolution to disarm Iraq, 
young and old activists from as far afield as Russia and Portugal joined forces for the 
carnival-like rally, singing Communist anthems and 1970s peace songs.

      "Take your war and go to hell," read one banner, in a forest of multi-colored and 
multi-lingual placards.

      "Drop Bush, not Bombs" read another. Some placards depicted President Bush as Hitler and 
Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi as Mussolini.

      Organizers said the rally, planned months ago, gained added relevance by Friday's U.N. 
Security Council resolution which gave Iraq a last chance to disarm or face almost certain war.

      The protest, involving children as well as grandmothers, marked the climax of the first 
European Social Forum, a four-day meeting of anti-globalisation campaigners from all over Europe. 
Delegates discussed topics from debt-reduction to support for the Palestinian uprising against 
Israeli occupation.

      Florence has been virtually shut down for the November 6-10 period, with the State Department 
advising its citizens to steer clear of Italy's art capital over concerns that violent, anarchist 
groups might infiltrate the demonstration.

      Authorities estimated that some 450,000 protesters flooded Florence's streets for the march 
on a chilly autumn afternoon.

      But by dusk, the crowed had swelled to over half a million, many of them arriving on 
specially chartered trains and buses. Organizers estimated the gathering at around one million, 
making it one of Italy's biggest ever anti-war rallies.

      Despite the large crowds, the march was largely peaceful and no incidents were reported.

      "The atmosphere here is wonderful. Absolutely perfect. It shows that a new young left is 
emerging," said Stavos Valsamis, a 27-year-old Greek activist from Athens.

      Children climbed on their parents' shoulders to get a view of the sea of crowds marching 
along the seven-km (4.5-miles) route. Many clapped as marchers passed by.

      "This is amazing, it's so impressive," said 12-year-old Bianca Ronglia as she watched with 
her family from the side of the road. "I'm happy and proud that my city is holding this."


      The march was bigger than a protest at a G8 summit in Genoa last year, when 300,000 
demonstrators took to the streets and an orgy of violence left one protester dead and hundreds 

      Some 7,000 police officers were on call but security forces kept a low profile along the 
rally's route. No incidents were reported.

      The rest of Florence was a ghost town with most shops in the art-rich historical center 
pulling down the shutters for fear of vandals. However, the city's famed museums remained open and 
offered free entry to the few tourists around.

      Many Florence residents deserted the city for the four days of the forum, prompting criticism 
from those who stayed behind.

      "I'm really disappointed by my fellow Florentines -- it really shows very little faith. This 
whole event has been very calm, in fact the city has been much calmer and friendlier than usual," 
said housewife Maria Briccoli, 37.

      As well as university-age students, older political activists and thousands of trades 
unionists, Saturday's throng also included Italian World War II partisans and a U.S. Vietnam war 
veteran who marched in the first row of the crowd.

      While Friday's U.N. resolution gives the Security Council a central role in assessing the new 
arms' inspection program for Iraq, it does not require the United States to seek U.N. authorization 
for war in case of violations.

      "I think it's a scandalous resolution," said Sean Murray, 29, a member of Workers' 
Revolution. "It proves once more that the U.N. is a puppet of America, Britain and France."

       Copyright Reuters 2002. All rights reserved.

"Your vision will become clear only when you look into your heart. Who looks outside, dreams.Who 
looks inside, awakens"
Carl Jung

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