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Thousands of demonstrators marched Friday through downtown Tokyo to protest the war in Iraq and Japan’s plans to support the U.S.-led campaign with nonmilitary aid.

The protests came hours after Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi conferred by telephone with U.S. President George W. Bush for the first time since hostilities were launched Thursday. Bush told Koizumi military operations were “going well,” officials said.

Koizumi supports efforts by the United States, Japan’s main ally, to disarm Saddam Hussein and has promised to provide aid for refugees and help rebuild Iraq after the fighting is over.

But the conflict is extremely unpopular in a country with bitter memories of the crushing defeat it suffered in World War II.

Chanting “World peace, no war,” thousands took advantage of warm spring weather and a national holiday to march for peace in Tokyo on Friday afternoon.

Police estimated about 8,000 marchers set out from downtown Shiba Park.

Organizers said they had hoped for up to 50,000 people to take part.

Students and families carrying placards in Japanese and English were joined by representatives of opposition parties and the country’s labor unions.

“When I thought of children in Iraq, I felt like I had to come,” said housewife Fumiko Nakajima, 38, who was marching with her husband and their two children. “If our government can’t stand up to the United States, then we citizens have to.”

They wore signs around their necks reading, “We love peace.”

Some said they were marching despite a sense of futility.

“What I do may not make much of a difference, but I had to do something,” college student Hajime Nakatsuji said. “Innocent people are going to suffer.”

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