| An anti-war protester in San Diego on Thursday. (Reuters)
San Francisco, March 21 (Reuters): Police arrested more than 1,000 people in San Francisco yesterday — the most taken into custody on a single day in the city in decades — as tens of thousands protested across America against the US war in Iraq.
“If this was happening in every city, there would either be martial law or an end to war,” said one Berkeley student who chained himself to 16 others on a major San Francisco street.
Protests took place in other cities across the US as well as in European capitals. During morning rush hour in Washington D.C., more than 100 demonstrators temporarily shut down the Key Bridge, a major route from Virginia into Washington’s Georgetown neighbourhood and three were arrested.
About 100 protesters later gathered in pouring rain on the streets near the White House, and about 350 demonstrators blocked evening rush hour traffic on a main Washington thoroughfare.
In New York, which bore the brunt of the September 11, 2001, attacks that President George W. Bush has repeatedly cited as an example of the threat to America, “September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows” condemned what they called an illegal and immoral US war.
Anti-war demonstrators overflowed police barriers during rush hour in Times Square, completely shutting New York’s Broadway for two blocks below 42nd Street. Police said they arrested 21 people.
“A year-and-a-half ago you were heroes,” one onlooker shouted as police forcibly led away one demonstrator. “Don’t become our enemies.”
Under sunny skies, San Francisco protesters started early and continued into the night yesterday with actions aimed at choking off traffic across the city.
Police in riot gear made between 1,300 and 1,400 arrests, a spokeswoman for the San Francisco sheriff’s department said.
“I’ve been around for 30 years, and there have never been more people arrested at a protest in one day,” acting police chief Alex Fagan said.
Many towns in America displayed support for the troops, although in a quieter way. Towns like Waxahachie, Texas, south of Dallas, put up yellow ribbons in support of US troops.
At a pro-war demonstration in Lincoln, Nebraska, participants sang My Country ’Tis of Thee, and waved home-made signs that read “Go Marines,” “Send Saddam to Martyrdumb” and “Nebraskans for War.”
Debbie Petee, a Bush supporter in San Francisco, said the anti-war protesters “are nothing but traitors. This does nothing but give aid and support to the enemy.”
Protesters across that nation said opposing war was not at odds with American patriotism.
“It’s not like we’re burning flags,” said Danielle Geroux, a student at an anti-war rally at Florida’s capital, Tallahassee. “We just don’t want people to die.” Vietnam veteran Mike Ward, 56, who participated in protest marches in the 1960s, wore his combat ribbons in San Francisco so that no one would question his patriotism.
Students gathered at campuses across the nation, including at Harvard University, where hundreds walked out of classes at noon and at least 1,500 people gathered at a rally.
Students at the University of California’s Berkeley campus, a hotbed of dissent against the Vietnam War in the 1960s and early 1970s, occupied the main administration building for several hours before 120 were arrested. Police in Pittsburgh fought with some protesters and arrested about 50 people, some as young as age 14.
Chicago police in riot gear and thousands of largely peaceful protesters played cat-and-mouse, with marchers clogging several major streets and a key highway.
“People are just upset. They don’t want this war and Bush won’t listen,” protester Margaret Jackson said. Late yesterday, police corralled remnants of the demonstration near the city’s historic Water Tower and arrested hundreds.
Some in the crowd flew Iraqi, Palestinian and French flags. Sparks flew as officials sawed through chains linking protesters. Some of the city’s fabled cable cars were halted. In Madison, Wisconsin, a traditional hotbed of protest, police investigated vandalism at the state Republican party headquarters on Wednesday night in which a half-dozen windows were broken and paint bombs were thrown.