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France: Paris Protests A Measure Of Resistance To Iraq War

By Sarah Martin

Up to 6 million people marched in cities around the globe over the weekend to show their opposition to the possibility of U.S.-led military action against Iraq. The biggest rallies in Europe were in those nations whose governments have stated their support for the U.S. position, such as Britain and Italy. In France, meanwhile, which wants more time to try to defuse the crisis through diplomacy, hundreds of thousands of people turned out in Paris to underline their resistance to war.

Paris, 17 February 2003 (RFE/RL) -- A crisp, sunny Saturday (15 February) in Paris provided perfect conditions for hundreds of thousands of antiwar protestors to take to the streets of the French capital. They walked quietly, shoulder to shoulder, along the wide French boulevards, winding their way from south of the Jardin de Luxembourg to Place de la Bastille.

The demonstrators showed their opposition to the U.S. push to disarm Iraq by force by carrying signs that read "No Bush = No War" and singing songs of peace. Many signs and banners were written in English as a message to the U.S. government.

French police estimate that between 300,000 and 400,000 people turned out to protest across the country. Marches were also held Lyon, Toulouse, Marseille, Nice, and Strasbourg.

A group of 150 Americans marching in Paris were applauded by French bystanders as they walked under a banner that read: "Americans Against a War in Iraq." Connie Bord led the group of American expatriates and vacationers. "I'm so adamantly opposed to this war. I'm frightened out of my mind. Everybody is. Everybody that we meet overseas seems to be bothered by the war, and I can't understand [it]. If a majority of the population in America is for it, then they just don't see what's happening in the rest of the world. They just don't get it. And secondly, we hope the message gets back home that there are Americans all over the world against this war," she said.

Further along in the march was Christine Abdelkrim-Delanne. She is co-founder of the Association of Civilian and Military Victims of the Gulf War in France. Abdelkrim-Delanne marched with a group of some 100 people from her association. "We have to express our opposition to this new war. The first [Gulf] War had drastic effects on the population, [both] military or civilian -- the Iraqi people -- and we don't want it again," she said.

A recent poll found that 77 percent of French adults oppose war in Iraq, even if the UN Security Council gives its endorsement. And 81 percent of those polled said they do not believe Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein has been developing weapons of mass destruction in defiance of UN resolutions.

The weekend protest underlined the popular endorsement in France of President Jacques Chirac's antiwar position. Chirac has been at the forefront of diplomatic efforts to find a peaceful solution to the Iraq crisis.

In an interview to appear in today's edition of the U.S. news magazine "Time", Chirac says UN weapons inspectors should be given more time but also acknowledges the U.S. military buildup in the Middle East is largely responsible for Saddam's increasing cooperation.

France, unlike Germany, has refused to rule out the idea of supporting the U.S. use of force if it becomes necessary. In the magazine interview, Chirac says that if Iraq doesn't cooperate "and the inspectors say this isn't working, it could be war."

French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin joined in the clamor on 15 February, praising his country's efforts to slow the U.S. push for war. "France is giving hope to the world," he said. "France is giving peace a chance."

France has proposed 14 March as the date of the next ministerial meeting of the Security Council to discuss the UN weapons inspections in Iraq.