BONN, JAN. 26 -- Despite an impassioned government appeal against damaging their country's image, at least 150,000 protesters gathered today at Germany's largest anti-war demonstration since the start of the Persian Gulf War.
Speakers from the country's major trade unions, churches and peace groups repeatedly rejected Chancellor Helmut Kohl's accusation that the protest movement's anti-American attitude was straining relations between Germany and its allies in the coalition against Iraq.
"We are not against the Americans," Evangelical Church Bishop Gottfried Forck, a leader of the 1989 East German revolution, told the peaceful crowd to loud cheers. "We are against the recklessness of American policy."
Overtly anti-American signs were less plentiful than in many of the more than 100 previous demonstrations, but signs, speeches and interviews with protesters showed that many Germans continue to place blame for the war primarily on American shoulders.
The Kohl government had issued a statement urging demonstrators "not to be blind to who is responsible for this war. In view of the worldwide attention this assembly will attract, demonstrators bear a heavy responsibility for Germany's reputation in the world."
But the biggest cheers of the day came when a rock singer denounced Kohl's statement as "stupid." Although some banners insisted "We are not against America!" and "Solidarity with Israel," others said "Americans Out!" and "Oppose the U.S. Aggressors!"
"It's the Americans who really attacked," said Andrea Peters, who held an "Americans Out!" sign. "No blood would have been lost without the Americans. Many people in Kuwait thought it was no crime for them to become part of Iraq. Only the Americans use that as an excuse for war."
Organizers said between 150,000 and 200,000 people were at the main rally. Police said attendance was closer to 150,000.
An opinion survey by the Wickert Institute this week found that although 70 percent of Germans support the use of force against Iraq, 61 percent say they understand the anti-war protests that have taken place here every day since the war began. As many as 30,000 Germans protested today in Berlin, and tens of thousands attended demonstrations in Switzerland and France.
Polls repeatedly have found overwhelming majorities of Germans opposed to any German participation in the gulf conflict. Opposition to the war is not limited to the young people and families who filled the sprawling green in front of Bonn's 18th-century university building today. The editor of the influential weekly Die Zeit, Theo Sommer, wrote this week that the Persian Gulf War "turns out to be a last, almost spastic twitching of U.S. supremacy which resurrects the reflexes of the Cold War."
And the chairman of the opposition Social Democratic Party, Bjorn Engholm, said, "It is wrong to place those who are demonstrating because they are deeply shocked by the war in an anti-American niche. There is no just war."
Several pro-American and pro-Israeli gatherings of a few dozen people drew small clusters of war protesters, along with the occasional heckler.
Bonn University students who stood on the city's Market Square with a large Israeli flag and small U.S. banners said they were repeatedly threatened and their flags were stamped upon.
Reports that German technological assistance -- both from West German arms companies and from the former East German army -- enabled Iraq to extend the range of its Scud missiles so they could reach Israel have produced strong, but diametrically opposed, reactions here.
While many protesters said Germany should ban all arms exports, a Kohl spokesman said the government will decide "in the next few days" whether it will send some of its Patriot air-defense missiles to Israel.
Speakers at the three-hour rally declared Germany's responsibility to stand by Israel but rejected sending German weapons to help Israel defend itself against Iraqi missiles.
"Why should Germany do anything?" said protest organizer Angelika Schneider. "Israel is a side issue. The real question is what have the Americans done to Iraq, and why did we let their forces go to the gulf from German soil?"