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Rallies against the U.S.-led war on Iraq continued Thursday in front of U.S. diplomatic offices in Japan, with hunger strikes continuing as U.S. bombs started falling on Baghdad.

About 80 people gathered at the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo’s Minato Ward by 10 a.m., chanting, “No war!”

Police, on high alert, began expelling them from the area — some by force — after 11:30 a.m.

U.S. warplanes began attacking Iraq at around 11:40 a.m. Japan time, 1 hour and 40 minutes after U.S. President George W. Bush’s deadline for Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and his sons to leave the country.

“I want President Bush to seriously listen to the voice of the people,” said Kaori Sawada, a 26-year-old member of the group Peace Boat, who began a hunger strike in front of the embassy Tuesday evening. “There are a number of people acting the same way around the world.”

Hiroshi Takizawa, a 45-year-old cram school teacher, said, “I feel sorry for the people of Iraq, because we have been unable to have our opinions reflected in Japan’s policy (on the Iraq issue) even though a majority of the public is against the war.”

“Stop (the war) immediately!” shouted Atsushi Kawakami, a 49-year-old teacher at a Tokyo metropolitan government-run high school. “What the U.S. does is wrong. What is the United Nations there for?”

Daisuke Ikeda, 19, who has been staging an antiwar hunger strike in front of the embassy this week, said as he was driven away from the embassy area.

“I demand that the Japanese government not provide economic support to the U.S,” he said.

At the U.S. Consulate General in Osaka, some 100 people gathered and raised their fists, chanting, “Bush, stop the war!” and “We won’t tolerate Japan taking part in war!”

“I can’t tolerate Japan playing an active role in the Iraq assault without clear reasons,” a 28-year-old company employee in Osaka said.

In Hiroshima, victims of the 1945 U.S. atomic bombing of the city and university students who have been on a hunger strike since Wednesday staged a sit-in at Peace Memorial Park, displaying banners stating they do not want Iraq to follow in the footsteps of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

“I truly cannot forgive this,” said Makoto Nakajima, a 21-year-old student at Hiroshima University. “I want to think about some way to stop the war.”

The Iraqi Embassy in Tokyo, also in Minato Ward, and a mosque in Shibuya Ward were quiet.

Qasim Shakir, charge d’affaires ad interim at the Iraqi Embassy, said the U.S. should exercise more wisdom because he believes the international community is opposed to the war.

Japanese head to Iraq

Eight more Japanese departed Thursday morning for Iraq with the intention of acting as “human shields,” just as the U.S.-led military strike was beginning.

The eight people, who said they are acting individually but agreed to travel together, took off from Narita airport for Damascus via the Netherlands. They plan to take a land route from the Syrian capital to Baghdad, they said.

However, they said that after arriving in Damascus, they will contact citizens’ groups working in the region to determine if they will be able to enter Iraq, where the U.S. launched a missile and stealth bomber attack early Thursday local time.

The group includes Yasuyuki Aizawa, 31, of Kawagoe, Saitama Prefecture, who works at a jewelry manufacturer, and Yuichi Sugimoto, a 46-year-old innkeeper from Niigata.

“Maybe the borders will be closed and we might not be able to enter,” Aizawa said before boarding the plane. “We are not going there to die. We will stick to our antiwar message.”

Eight other Japanese already in Baghdad planning to act as human shields maintained their intention to remain in the country despite the start of the war, rejecting requests by telephone from the Foreign Ministry in Tokyo to leave, ministry officials said.

“No matter how many times we tell them, their will to stay remains strong,” one official said.

Another official said the government was not able to contact the Japanese in Baghdad after the U.S. attack began.

They are among 26 Japanese who were still in Iraq as of 7 a.m. Thursday Japan time, including 12 journalists and six members of nongovernmental organizations working on aid programs in the Kurdish autonomous region in northern Iraq, the ministry said.

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