Students, Locals Protest Military Action in Iraq





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SAN FRANCISCO-More than 100 Berkeley students and residents joined thousands in San Francisco's Union Square yesterday to protest President Bush's drive for military action in Iraq.

A diverse pack of students marched from People's Park down Telegraph and Shattuck avenues chanting "No war on Iraq! Let's have a peace talk!" and hoisting signs to the beat of drums before moving across the bay.

In San Francisco, the Berkeley contingent merged with a crowd police estimated was approximately 5,000 people for Not in Our Name, a national grassroots organization opposing military force in Iraq.

More than a dozen speakers, spoken word poets and musicians advocated for peaceful solutions in Iraq. Protests around the country in New York City and Los Angeles yesterday attracted similar numbers.

The protest took place one year after the United States began its bombing of Afghanistan, and many speakers said they anticipated a Congressional vote this week to approve a pre-emptive strike against Iraq.

Students said their protest of military action in Iraq will give others the courage to also express disapproval.

"If we don't come out, get together and speak, how can they ever know what the voters want?" said UC Berkeley freshman Hillary Lehr.

Despite allegations by federal officials that Iraq is manufacturing nuclear and biological weapons under Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's regime, student protesters said war is not the solution to combatting Hussein.

"Everybody recognizes Saddam Hussein for the cruel despot that he is, but we certainly don't want to add to the pain and suffering he has already inflicted upon his people," said Michael Smith, a UC Berkeley junior.

UC Berkeley junior Leticia Flores helped arrange an altar on the steps of Union Square dedicated to past revolutionaries such as Che Guevara. She later donned a yellow suit to represent Afghan prisoners held at the U.S. naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

"I'm tired of the domestic war," she said. "Everybody's just losing more and more people. We as citizens need to urge the government to do the job it was supposed to do."

But members of Berkeley College Republicans said there would be severe consequences for avoiding military action in Iraq.

"I say if we do nothing we will add to the suffering Saddam Hussein has done to his own people and to the global community," said Paul LaFata, an ASUC senator for Berkeley College Republicans Party. "Inaction is culpability."

Protesters repeatedly shouted a "pledge of resistance," written by protest organizers, to declare their objections to military force in other nations and erosion of civil liberties.

The pledge was written to express disapproval of Bush's policies and to affirm resistance as long as Bush's war efforts persist, organizers said.

"We believe that as people living in the United States it is our responsibility to resist the injustices done by our government in our names," the crowd repeated along with speakers, reciting the pledge in several languages.

San Francisco Police Department officials said the protest was peaceful and added that no "incidents" occurred.

Berkeley Stop the War Coalition has planned an additional anti-war rally on Sproul Plaza Wednesday.

Bret Manley, president of Berkeley College Republicans, said no plans for a counterdemonstration have yet been made.

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