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Thousands of people took to Japan’s streets Saturday to protest against a probable war in Iraq.

The events were part of an international day of action that may have involved as many as 10 million people in at least 400 cities around the world.

Several hundred people packed the narrow street in front of the American Embassy in Tokyo to express anger at the United States for moving closer to military action.

“Respect international law!” an American demonstrator said through a loud speaker, a chant that was repeated by the crowd. Other chants included, “Don’t attack Iraq!” and “U.S. kills for oil!”

Children drew pictures depicting their wishes for peace while a group of demonstrators sang a peace song nearby.

“This is more than I expected,” said Akira Kawasaki, who has organized protests in front of the embassy every Saturday since early January. He submitted to an embassy official a collection of messages written by people taking part in the protest.

“Thanks to information technology, we have been able to mobilize more people this time,” said Kawasaki, who arranged protests during the Gulf War in 1991. “There are many people here whom I didn’t know until today.”

Another organizer said she received numerous inquiries from people who said they had never attended a demonstration.

Makoto Nakamura, a 25-year-old computer salesman, was one such person. He encouraged college friends to join him.

“I heard war could break out sometime in March. I felt it’s useless complaining to the TV (at home),” he said.

In Tokyo’s Shibuya district, thousands of people took part in protests that continued into the evening.

Similar protests were held in major cities throughout the country, including Osaka, Nara, Shizuoka and Fukuoka, organizers said.

“I think we can be optimistic,” said Kawasaki, citing the fact that the U.S. is facing strong opposition, including from powerful countries such as Germany and France.

“We can act to encourage the countries that are calling for continued inspections,” he said.

Iraqi tries to avert war

An Iraqi man living in Japan said Saturday that he will return to his homeland for the first time in four years with a group of Japanese citizens in the hope of preventing a possible U.S.-led attack on Iraq.

“I worry about my family. They are already suffering as a result of economic sanctions,” said Ismail Ali, 34, who lives in Tachikawa, western Tokyo.

Ali, whose mother and the families of his brother and sister are in Iraq, will leave Japan on Sunday with the Iraq International Citizen Research Group.

As well as assisting the group, which is to investigate the current situation in Iraq, Ali plans to marry his 30-year-old fiancee in Baghdad.

Apart from hoping for peace in his country, Ali says his other hope is to come back to Japan with his new wife.

“No one desires war,” he said, but added, “I can’t tell what will happen depending on the situation. I may get drafted.”

Ali, who arrived in Japan in 1999 as a student and is now working as an interpreter, was living in Baghdad at the time of the Persian Gulf War.

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