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Protesters Call for End to Occupation of Iraq


By Chris Michaud, Reuters

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Anti-war demonstrators marched in a dozen U.S. cities on Saturday to call for an immediate end to the war in Iraq and a cut-off of funding by Congress.

The "national day of action," sponsored by the United for Peace and Justice coalition, attracted throngs of protesters in cities from Boston and New Orleans to Chicago and Los Angeles on the fifth anniversary of the U.S. Senate's vote authorizing the invasion of Iraq.

Wet weather dampened the turnout in New York, but thousands braved the rain for the anti-war event in Manhattan, where protesters carried signs reading "End the war now," demanding a cutoff of its funding; "Healthcare, not warfare;" and calling for the impeachment of President Bush for "war crimes."

One contingent began its trek in New Jersey, marching across the George Washington Bridge en route to a rally in Manhattan's Union Square, where speakers included anti-war veterans and families of servicemen in Iraq.

Leslie Kielsen, a local UPAJ organizer, said the "half a trillion" dollars spent on the war was money that could have been used for education, housing and to feed the hungry.

The demonstrators, who included labor unions activists, also spoke out on issues including nuclear weapons and what some see as the increasing likelihood of U.S. military intervention in Iran over its escalating nuclear program.

They then marched peacefully to Foley Square near some of New York's largest courthouses and federal office buildings for another rally. En route, they observed a two minute period of silence to honor the war dead.

In Chicago, an estimated 10,000 people gathered at Union Park for the march to Federal Plaza. Democratic Reps. Danny Davis and Rep. Jan Schakowsky both told a rally before the march they would oppose any further funding for the war in Iraq without a formal withdrawal date.

"Do not let the political leaders divide us," Veterans for Peace National Executive Director Michael McPherson, a Gulf War veteran, told the crowd.

"Figure out ways to work together even though we might have some differences. We must stand together on these issues."

Mike Carano, 53, the Ohio co-coordinator for the Progressive Democrats of America, said "This isn't just a thing where a number of people come to (Washington) D.C.

"This is across-the-country sentiment about ending the occupation, redirecting funds for needs in this country, our attempt to get Congress to stand up and have its prerogative to cut funding, to take charge. That's our hope."

A second rally was slated to follow the march, while a group of mothers of active U.S. soldiers planned to hold a counter-demonstration, local media reported.

Organizers said demonstrators in San Francisco were expected to number as many as 100,000.

Protests were also slated for Seattle, Salt Lake City, Orlando, Philadelphia and even Jonesborough, Tennessee, home to a company that is the largest producer of weapons that use depleted uranium.

(Additional reporting by Benjamin Klayman in Chicago)

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