Protesters mark Iraq war anniversary

The Associated Press

About 2,000 people rallied Saturday in a downtown Tokyo park to mark the third anniversary of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq and demand that Japanese and other coalition troops pull out, a protest organizer said.

The rally is one of several planned around the world to condemn the occupation of Iraq, and follows a similar protest of about 500 people who marched through the streets of Sydney.

About 2,000 demonstrators turned out in Tokyo, carrying signs saying “Stop the Occupation” as they listened to a series of antiwar speeches, said Takeshiko Tsukushi, a member of World Peace Now who helped plan the rally. Tokyo Metropolitan Police were unable to immediately confirm the turnout numbers.

The crowd later marched about 3.5 km to protest in the Ginza shopping district.

“The war is illegal under international law,” Tsukushi said. “We want the immediate withdrawal of the Self-Defense Forces and from Iraq along with all foreign troops.”

Prime Minister Junchiro Koizumi is a staunch supporter of the U.S.-led coalition in Japan and dispatched 600 troops to the city of Samawah in 2004 to purify water and carry out other humanitarian tasks. The Cabinet approved an extension of that mission in December, authorizing soldiers to stay in Iraq through the end of the year.

But public opinion polls show the majority of Japanese oppose the mission, which has been criticized as a violation of the pacifist Constitution. Many say the deployment has made Japan a target for terrorism.

Meanwhile, around 500 protesters marched through central Sydney Saturday, chanting “End the war now!” and “Troops out of Iraq!” Many waved placards branding U.S. President George W. Bush the “World’s No. 1 Terrorist.”

Demonstrations were also expected across Europe.

In London, Scotland Yard police headquarters said streets around Piccadilly Circus in the heart of the shopping and theater district would be closed as up to 100,000 people planned to march in the capital. Britain has about 8,000 troops in Iraq but plans to pull 800 by May.

Demonstrations were also planned Saturday in several Spanish cities.