Antiwar Protests Commence in Washington

By Miranda S. Spivack and Petula Dvorak
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, September 24, 2005; 6:18 PM

Thousands of protesters against the war in Iraq rallied today in Washington and other U.S. and European cities to demand the return of U.S. troops in what organizers hope will be the largest gathering since the war began more than two years ago.

Protest organizers estimated a crowd of about 200,000 rallied at the Ellipse, then marched around the White House and along Pennsylvania Avenue. Police downgraded the count to about 150,000. The crowd thinned when a misty drizzle began before the afternoon concert on the Washington Monument grounds.

D.C. police and U.S. Park Police said there were no significant problems during the demonstrations and reported three arrests -- one for destruction of property, one for attempted theft, and one for disorderly conduct. Police said all three incidents stemmed from the tearing-down of a construction fence and the destruction of a newspaper box in the 1000 block of 11th Street NW. Police said that some windows were broken at 13th Street, just south of L Street.

The antiwar activities occurred on the same weekend as the fall meetings of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, which drew several hundred activists who criticized the organization's policies as detrimental to the world's poor.

Protesters came from around the country to the nation's capital, arriving on buses, planes and in cars, carrying signs that read "Bush Lied, Thousands Died," and "End the Occupation," among other messages.

"We believe we are at a tipping point whereby the anti-war sentiment has now become the majority sentiment," said Brian Becker, national coordinator for ANSWER, one of the main antiwar groups coordinating today's events.

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 before the march. 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."

President Bush was not around to hear the protesters, assembled just blocks from the White House, although his wife, Laura, was at home hosting authors for a long-planned literary festival on the Mall. Bush had flown out of town on Friday to assess Hurricane Rita recovery efforts. Vice President Cheney was undergoing surgery at George Washington University Hospital to repair aneurysms on the back of his knees.

The protest march, which launched from the Ellipse south of the White House, began shortly after 1 p.m. Protesters planned to cross in front of the White House, a few blocks north, and then traverse the city, finally ending where they began at the Ellipse.

Nearby, at the Washington Monument, an 11-hour concert, featuring folk singer Joan Baez, began in late afternoon.

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