Protesters hit the streets

From Germany to Bangladesh, Indonesia to Chile, South Korea to the United States, it was Vietnam redux as war protesters in the tens and hundreds of thousands filled streets and television screens around the globe. The antiwar demonstrations provided an emphatic alternative to media coverage of fighting and bombing as the first 11 days of the war in Iraq drew to a close.

And even though many protesters admitted at the outset of multiple peace rallies that they didn't think their actions would alter the Bush administration's policies or coalition war efforts, it was important their message be heard. Police estimated 25,000 antiwar protesters gathered on Boston's historic Common.

Germany saw the largest demonstrations in Europe. More than 100,000 people took part countrywide, with 50,000 estimated at a rally in Berlin. Some 30,000 Germans held hands along the 31 miles between the northwestern cities of Muenster and Osnabrueck, recalling their country's tortured history of war. Negotiators who brought the Thirty Years' War to an end in 1648 used the route.

Religiously conservative Yemen saw hundreds of veiled Muslim women march in protest in the city of San'a. Some carried placards declaring the United States and Britain "the axis of evil."

In Canada, prowar and antiwar demonstrators were active in several cities, including a crowd of 4,000 in Ottawa chanting "USA" in support of America's war effort. Protesters hung black banners from bridges in Rome. Riot police and barbed wire roadblocks kept thousands of Bangladeshi protesters away from the US Embassy in Dhaka. Demonstrators burned an American flag and an effigy of President Bush.

Poland and Hungary, countries whose governments support the war, also saw protests. Two thousand mostly young people marched to the US Embassy in Warsaw. Poland sent 200 soldiers to fight with coalition forces in Iraq. A similar number in Hungary marched past the US and British embassies in Budapest. Paris was the scene of an estimated 10,000 protesters. Five thousand police stood by to make sure things didn't get out of hand. Some 8,000 people marched in Dublin to protest the Irish government's decision to grant US forces refueling and stopover rights. Three thousand people staged a peaceful march in Santiago, Chile, while police in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, used tear gas to break up a protest outside the Australian Embassy. Australia has 2,000 troops fighting with the coalition.

What this all means is too early to tell. Commentators from the left and right say it is far too early to predict the influence protests will have on the war. Former Colorado Senator Gary Hart cautions against a rear-view take on war protesters. Speaking with Fox News on TV Saturday night, he took strong umbrage at the point of view that protesting the war or disagreeing with administration policy "was unpatriotic." Like an overwhelming majority of Americans he says, he supports the troops, now that they have been deployed in harm's way.

Recent polls in the US cast a wider lens on attitudes about the war than that conveyed by protesters. A new poll by Newsweek finds that 74 percent of Americans credit the Bush administration with a well-thought-out military plan. That same poll indicates that 49 percent of Americans would support the war even if it were to "last more than a year." It found that President Bush's job-approval rating climbed 15 points to 68 percent since its previous poll two weeks ago. The Washington Post-ABC News survey found 74 percent support the decision to go to war. The support came despite the fact that 82 percent of respondents expect a "significant number of additional US casualties." A CBS poll on the other hand, found more than half, 55 percent, think the US underestimated Iraqi resistance to the invasion.

William Kristol, editor of the Weekly Standard, writes in the April 7, issue: "Every poll shows the American people are resolute, convinced the war is necessary and just, and determined to see it through to the end." Mr. Kristol is convinced that "As long as the Bush administration continues to focus all its attention on winning the war, it will have the support of the American people."

Overseas polls, on the other hand, present an opposite view. Popular criticism of US foreign policy was almost universal prior to the outbreak of hostilities. The Pew Research Center, in a poll taken between March 10 to March 17, shows support for war in France at 20 percent, Germany at 27 percent, Russia at 10 percent, and Turkey at 12 percent.

The most recent poll from Germany by the Electoral Research Group for ZDF television taken March 27, shows 84 percent of voters oppose US-led military action in Iraq, with just 13 percent in favor of the war. The majority of Italians remain opposed to the war in Iraq, but a majority also want it to end in a quick victory for the United States, according to an opinion poll published Friday by the daily La Repubblica. Some 76 percent of respondents to a poll carried out are opposed to the war, while 63 percent want it to end quickly, with a victory for the US and British forces.

Swedish opposition to the war against Iraq remains strong but has fallen somewhat since the start of the US-led attacks, according to two polls published on Friday. Sixty-eight percent of Swedes said they now objected to the military strikes, compared to 81 percent in the days preceding the war, a Temo poll conducted March 18-26 and published in the daily Dagens Nyheter showed.

Meanwhile, 28 percent said they were now in favor of it, compared to 19 percent earlier. "It is seldom that we see such speedy changes in public opinion," Temo analyst Arne Modig commented.

A second poll, conducted by the Sifo institute and published in the daily Aftonbladet, showed that 20 percent of Swedes said the US was right to launch war on Iraq, compared to 14 percent a week ago.

Sixty-two percent said the US was wrong to do so, compared to 68 percent a week ago.

Support for the war against Iraq remains on an upswing in Britain with 59 percent now backing the attacks, the highest such figure since the war got under way eight days ago, an online poll showed Friday.

But the number who believe the US-led war is going "very well" has fallen nine percentage points from the start of the week to 11 percent, according to the YouGov poll published in The Daily Telegraph.

Meanwhile, those who think war is going "very badly" has jumped two points to four percent. The vast majority of respondents think war is going "fairly well" - with 62 percent believing this to be true compared with 64 percent earlier in the week. Looking ahead, only three percent think a US-led administation should run Iraq immediately after the war with 63 percent throwing their support behind a United Nations administration.

How will the US turn the negative view around? Mr. Hart suggests the Bush administration look carefully at what lies ahead. Serious policy discussions on where the US is going against rogue nations must continue and not be seen as unsupportive of the war, he says.

He points to possible action against the other members of the "axis of evil," saying these present tremendous challenges, and that support for solitary action would be difficult to maintain.

Information from news wires was used in this report.

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