By Deborah Charles
Sunday, January 28, 2007; 12:15 AM
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Chanting "bring our troops home," tens of thousands of anti-war protesters rallied in front of the U.S. Capitol on Saturday to pressure the government to get out of Iraq.
Veterans and military families joined some lawmakers, peace groups and actors including Vietnam war protester Jane Fonda to urge Congress and President George W. Bush to stop funding the war and pull troops from Iraq.
"When I served in the war, I thought I was serving honorably. Instead, I was sent to war ... for causes that have proved fraudulent," said Iraq war veteran Garett Reppenhagen.
"We need to put pressure on our elected government and force them to ... bring the troops home," the former sniper said to cheers from a sign-waving crowd.
Tens of thousands of people attended the rally on the National Mall, according to a park police officer.
For more than two hours, speakers atop a stage that also held a flag-draped coffin criticized Bush and the U.S. presence in Iraq before protesters marched around the Capitol.
In the crowd, a group of families of soldiers killed in Iraq held pictures of their loved ones, including one photo of a soldier in full dress uniform lying in a coffin.
More than 3,000 U.S. troops and tens of thousands of Iraqis have been killed since the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
The protest was one of several held around the United States. In California, thousands of demonstrators took to the streets in San Francisco and Los Angeles, where several dozen people carried flag-draped, mock coffins.
Protesters also planned coordinated efforts in Washington and across the country over the next week to lobby lawmakers to take action against the war.
DISAPPROVE OF MORE TROOPS
Bush's approval ratings have dropped to some of the weakest of his presidency and polls show a majority of Americans disapprove of his plan to send another 21,500 troops to Iraq.
But Bush said he has no intention of backing off his plan.
Asked about the protests, White House national security adviser spokesman Gordon Johndroe said Bush "understands that Americans want to see a conclusion to the war in Iraq and the new strategy is designed to do just that."
The demonstrations come amid growing efforts by lawmakers to protest Bush's plans in Iraq. The Senate Foreign Relations committee passed a resolution on Wednesday opposing the plan to send more troops.
Protesters are trying to send Bush and Congress a message that Americans do not support the war.
"I'm convinced this is Bush's war. He has his own agenda there," said Anne Chay, holding a sign with a picture of her 19-year-old son, John, who is serving in Iraq. "We're serving no purpose there."
Fonda, who was criticized for her opposition to the Vietnam War, drew huge cheers when she addressed the crowd. She noted that she had not spoken at an anti-war rally in 34 years.
"Silence is no longer an option," she said. "I'm so sad we have to do this -- that we did not learn from the lessons of the Vietnam War."
Democratic Rep. John Conyers, a Michigan Democrat and chair of the House Judiciary Committee, said the November 7 election -- which gave Democrats control of both houses of Congress -- showed Americans want change.
"It takes the ... outrage of the American people to force Washington to do the right thing," he said. "We've got to hold more of these ... until our government gets the message -- Out if Iraq immediately. This year. We've got to go."
(Additional reporting by Timothy Ryan in Washington and Lisa Baertlein in Los Angeles)