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Iraq: Schroeder Sees Chance For Peace As Millions Rally Against War

Prague, 15 February 2003 (RFE/RL) -- German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder said today there is still a chance for Iraq to eliminate its weapons of mass destruction without war. Speaking during a visit to Finland, Schroeder said UN weapons inspectors in Iraq should be given more time to complete their mission.

Yesterday, weapons inspectors offered a mixed report to the UN Security Council, saying they had found no weapons of mass destruction but that it was too soon to say Iraq does not possess any.

The report highlighted divisions among the permanent members of the council. China, France, and Russia said inspections should continue, while Britain and the U.S. called for swift action to enforce Iraq's disarmament.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair said at a conference in Scotland that inspectors should be given more time but insisted the UN must be prepared to take action if Iraq fails to comply with UN resolutions.

"Let the United Nations be the way to deal with [Iraqi president] Saddam [Hussein]. But let the United Nations mean what it says, and do what it means." He added: "I hope, even now, Iraq can be disarmed peacefully -- with or without Saddam. But if we show weakness now, if we allow the plea for more time to become just an excuse for prevarication until the moment for action passes, then it will not only be Saddam that is repeating history. The menace, and not just from Saddam, will grow. The authority of the UN will be lost."

Meanwhile, some two million people are estimated to have protested the prospect of war in Iraq at rallies held around the world.

In London, organizers says half a million people gathered to protest against possible war and the policies of Premier Blair, who says he supports military action if Iraq does not voluntarily disarm.

Blair said: "If there are 500,000 on that march [in London], that is still less than the number of people whose deaths Saddam has been responsible for. If there are one million, that is still less than the number of people who died in the wars that he started."

Hundreds of thousands more demonstrated in Paris, Dublin, Berlin, Zagreb, Warsaw, Moscow, Istanbul, New York, and dozens of other cities around the world. Italian organizers hailed today's protest in Rome as the largest peace demonstration in Italian history.