| Actor and anti-war activist Martin Sheen addresses a rally in San Francisco against a US-led invasion of Iraq on Saturday. (AFP)
Washington, March 16 (Reuters): Tens of thousands of Americans from more than 100 cities surrounded the White House in a peaceful anti-war protest yesterday, in perhaps their last chance to dissuade the Bush administration from invading Iraq.
Carrying signs with such messages as “Stop Mad Cowboy Disease” above a picture of US President George W. Bush, the demonstrators beat drums, sang songs and chanted as they marched from the Washington Monument to the White House and finally to the Justice Department.
Thousands of Americans in other cities also participated in anti-war marches, coinciding with similar demonstrations throughout Europe, Asia, South America and Australia.
In Washington, the mood was overwhelmingly anti-war.
“President Bush, listen to your people — the American people before you today, who say, ‘No war in Iraq’,” Howard University student Peta Lindsay told a cheering crowd at a midday rally. The demonstrators, from throughout the country and across the ideological spectrum, waved flags and placards and chanted slogans like “Send our troops home” and “No Blood for Oil.” Some flew rainbow kites with “peace” written on them.
Bush spent the day away from Washington at the Camp David presidential retreat in Maryland. But he used his weekly radio address to brace the public for war, saying he saw little hope that Iraq would disarm peacefully.
Despite his absence, police cars kept the demonstrators to a route about a block’s width away from the White House.
Washington police said the event was largely peaceful but five people were arrested for “unlawful entry” of World Bank headquarters, several blocks from the White House and the demonstration route.
Bush today headed to Portugal’s Azores islands for an emergency summit with the leaders of Britain and Spain in a final pursuit of a UN resolution that would set the stage for war against Iraq over its alleged weapons of mass destruction programs.
The resolution sponsored by the three countries is the subject of a bitter fight among UN Security Council members.
First-time demonstrator Patty Crotau, 28, left her home in northern New York on Friday afternoon and came to Washington by bus. The mother of two said she came because she believes the Bush administration’s current stance is hypocritical.
“We’re keeping everything we have in terms of weapons of mass destruction,” she said. “I would hate to see it come to a point where this might come back to the US and affect my children.”
In San Francisco, thousands of protesters chanted, played guitars, beat drums and carried signs reading “How many lives per gallon'” in a march covering about a dozen city blocks.
More than 150 people were arrested in the city after the main rally, as a splinter group broke off from the earlier march, local media reported. The smaller group of demonstrators, many dressed in black, stayed on the streets and attempted to block traffic, spurring the arrests.
There were also counter-demonstrations in other cities including Atlanta, where about 2,000 people gathered in downtown Atlanta in a “Rally for America.” Organisers said the event was designed to voice support for the US military and was not necessarily pro-war.