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Thousands protest war at D.C. rally

| Sunday, Sept. 25, 2005

WASHINGTON -- Crowds opposed to the war in Iraq surged past the White House on Saturday, shouting "Peace now!" in the largest anti-war protest in the nation's capital since the U.S invasion in March 2003.

The rally stretched through the day and into the night, with a marathon of music, speech-making and dissent on the National Mall.

Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey, noting that organizers had hoped to draw 100,000 people, said: "I think they probably hit that."

Speakers from the stage attacked President Bush's policies head on, but he was not at the White House to hear it. He spent the day in Colorado and Texas, monitoring Hurricane Rita recovery.

In the crowd were young activists; nuns, whose anti-war activism dates to the Vietnam War; parents mourning their children in uniform lost in Iraq; and uncountable families motivated for the first time to protest.

Connie McCroskey, 58, came from Des Moines, Iowa, with two of her daughters, both in their 20s. She said the protest is the family's first demonstration.

McCroskey, whose father fought in World War II, said she never would have dared protest during the Vietnam War.

"Today, I had some courage," she said yesterday.

Although united against the war, participants' political beliefs vary.

Paul Rutherford, 60, of Vandalia, Mich., said he is a Republican who supported Bush in last year's election and still does -- except for the war.

"President Bush needs to admit he made a mistake in the war and bring the troops home, and let's move on," Rutherford said.

His wife, Judy, 58, called the removal of Iraq's former leader Saddam Hussein "a noble mission" but said U.S. troops should have left when claims that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction proved unfounded.

"We found that there were none and yet we still stay there, and innocent people are dying daily," she said.

"Bush Lied, Thousands Died," said one sign. "End the Occupation," said another placard.

More than 1,900 members of the U.S. armed forces have died since the beginning of the war in March 2003.

A few hundred people in a counter-demonstration in support of Bush's Iraq policy lined the protest route near the FBI building. The two groups shouted at each other, but a police line kept them apart.

Organizers of a pro-military rally today said they hope for 10,000 participants.

Ramsey, the police chief, said the protest yesterday unfolded peacefully under the heavy police presence.

"They're vocal but not violent," he said.

Arthur Pollock, 47, of Cecil County, Md., said he has been against the war from the beginning. He wants the soldiers out, but not all at once.

"They've got to leave slowly," said Pollock, attending his first protest. "It will be utter chaos in that country if we pull them out all at once."

Folk singer Joan Baez marched with the protesters and later serenaded them at a concert at the foot of the Washington Monument. An icon of the 1960s Vietnam War protests, Baez said Iraq already is a mess and that troops need to come home immediately.

"There is chaos. There's bloodshed. There's carnage," she said.

The protest in the capital showcased a series of demonstrations in foreign and other U.S. cities.

A crowd in London, estimated by police at 10,000, marched in support of withdrawing British troops from Iraq. Highlighting the need to get out are violent clashes between insurgents and British troops in the southern Iraq city of Basra, said protesters.

In Rome, dozens of protesters held up banners and peace flags outside the U.S. Embassy. They covered a sidewalk with messages and flowers in honor of those killed in Iraq.

At the Washington protest yesterday, Cindy Sheehan -- the California mother who drew thousands of demonstrators to her 26-day vigil outside Bush's Texas ranch last month -- won a roar of approval when she took the stage. Her 24-year-old son, Casey, was killed in Iraq last year.

"Shame on you," Sheehan admonished, directing that portion of her remarks to members of Congress who backed Bush on the war. "How many more of other people's children are you willing to sacrifice?"

She led the crowd in chanting, "Not one more."

Separately, hundreds of opponents of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund danced to the beat of drums in the Dupont Circle part of the city before marching toward the White House to join anti-war protesters.

Supporters of Bush's policy in Iraq assembled in smaller numbers to get their voices heard in the day's anti-war din. About 150 of them rallied at the U.S. Navy Memorial.

Gary Qualls, 48, of Temple, Texas, whose Marine Reservist son, Louis, died last year in the insurgent stronghold of Fallujah, asked: "If you bring them home now, who's going to be responsible for all the atrocities that are fixing to happen over there• Cindy Sheehan?"

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