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Protesters take to the streets to say ‘No’

Paris, March 15 (Reuters): Hundreds of thousands of protesters worldwide took to the streets today to say “No” to any US-led invasion of Iraq in the biggest anti-war demonstration since millions joined a global march for peace last month.

As the wave of protest began in Asia, organisers in Spain were hoping to draw crowds of more than a million in one of Europe’s biggest marches later in the day, matching the number seen in Spain during the global protests on February 15.

Spain’s Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar has been a staunch supporter of the tough US and British stance on Iraq and will meet President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair in the Atlantic Azores islands tomorrow for crisis talks.

On the other side of the Atlantic, buses packed with protesters from more than 100 US cities arrived in Washington for what could be the last chance to protest and dissuade the Bush administration from invading Iraq. They aim to surround the White House and justice department in a “sea of humanity”.

Estimates put the February 15 global turnout at upwards of four million, with some saying as high as 10 million. But this time, with war looking more likely, turnout appeared lower.

Kick-starting today’s protests, around 10,000 marched in Tokyo and 3,000 in Bangkok, where pigeons were released into the skies over the Thai capital as a peace symbol. Protests were also reported in Vietnam, Australia and New Zealand.

In Europe, police said 20,000 Greeks marched to the US embassy in Athens, with other rallies fanning out across the continent.

Police said around 30,000 people walked through downtown Brussels, including deputy Prime Minister Johan Vande Lanotte. In Milan, thousands joined a protest organised by Italy’s biggest trade union confederation CGIL.

In a message to the Italian government, which has supported the US position on the Iraq crisis, CGIL head Guglielmo Epifani said: “When the first bombs fall, this country will grind to a halt and the workers united will say no to war.” Police were expecting up to 200,000 to turn out across France, with a march setting off in the French capital in mid-afternoon.

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