October 9, 2002
0440 IST

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Attack Iraq? Not In Our Name!

Suleman Din in New York

Central Park attracted thousands of protestors and celebrities, including actors Susan Sarandon, Martin Sheen, Tim Robbins, and Indian filmmaker Mira Nair, calling on President George W Bush, to halt the United States's approaching military confrontation in Iraq.

Several similar rallies were held in many parts of the country, including San Francisco and Los Angeles. They were organised by Not In Our Name, an anti-war group.

Protestors charged the Bush administration with lying to the country about the need for an attack on Iraq and the war against terrorism.

Rally organisers said Bush's plan to attack Iraq was spurred by the lust for power, his connections with the oil industry, a scheme to control the world's oil reserves, and a desire to finish what his father, former president George H W Bush, started in 1991.

The crowd repeated a 'Pledge of Resistance', saying in part: "not in our name will you wage endless war, not in our name will you invade countries, bomb civilians, kill more children."

Chanting "Resist, resist!" some protesters held signs saying, "Do Not Get Bushed Into War In Iraq" and "Drop Bush, Not Bombs".

Organisers said the crowd, which was centred in the park's East Meadow, but spread to other sections, numbered at least 20,000.

Also lumped into the anti-war message was a protest against detention of immigrants and curtailment of civil liberties since the September 11 attacks.

"The government is trying to use the deaths of thousands of innocent people on 9/11 as justification for their war on the world and the shredding of civil liberties here at home," said Reecha Sen, one of the organisers at Central Park.

The celebrities who showed up were not shy in adding their two cents' worth, much to the delight of the crowd.

"We don't believe in war for oil," Robbins said. "[Invading Iraq] only distracts us from the Enrons, Halliburtons, and other corporate scandals."

"It's great to see a public debate on such a critical issue," said Sheen, who plays the US president in the television show The West Wing, adding that 40 years ago then president John F Kennedy used diplomacy to prevent the Cuban missile crisis from escalating into a war.

Dozens of celebrities signed a Not In Our Name anti-war declaration that ran as a paid advertisement in The Los Angeles Times and The New York Times.

Playwright Tony Kushner, filmmaker Oliver Stone, actor Ossie Davis, performer Mos Def, writer Gore Vidal and historian/author Howard Zinn were among the signatories.

Some politicians were also attracted to Not In Our Name's anti-war grassroots message, but not without cost to their public standing.

Representative Jim McDermott told about 5,000-plus peace activists at a rally in Seattle, Washington, that Bush is out for blood in Iraq and it will take their efforts to stop him.

"We can let the president know he does not get a free ride on this," said McDermott, D-Wash, known in the Indian-American community for his staunch support of the India caucus, who went on a recent five-day trip to Iraq.

Conservatives criticised McDermott for his comments, dubbing him 'Jihad Jim' and accusing him of sympathising with Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

The rallies followed other protests worldwide. In previous weeks, more than 150,000 protesters turned out in Britain to oppose a possible military strike against Iraq, and thousands demonstrated across Italy and in Greece to voice their opposition.

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