Thousands of protestors set to converge on D.C.

Protesters calling on President George W. Bush to end the post-war occupation of Iraq will converge on the National Mall Saturday.

The demonstration, organized by International A.N.S.W.E.R. – Act Now to Stop War and End Racism – and United for Peace and Justice, will be the first major protest against the Bush administration’s policies in Iraq since the U.S. declared victory there in May. Tens of thousands of people are expected to attend.

Organizers said the war’s cessation does not lessen the protest’s importance.

“We expect it to become really significant in the sense that it’s the reemergence of the anti-war movement, just refocused,” said Bill Hackwell, an A.N.S.W.E.R. public relations official. “Now we are back to bringing out the masses of numbers of people who are extremely fed up with the Bush administration and the direction it’s going.”

Protesters, who are being bussed in from 135 cities in 38 states, will congregate in front of the Washington Monument at 11 a.m. Saturday. They will then march past Lafayette Park and the F.B.I. and Department of Justice buildings before returning to the Mall.

Metropolitan Police Officer Junis Fletcher, of MPD’s Public Information Office, said there have been no indications that protesters will be violent.

“We’re hoping for no problems, but if something arises, (MPD) will be able to handle it,” Fletcher said, adding that MPD’s 3,600 officers would be on duty Saturday. He declined to say how many would be lining the march route.

Hackwell said protestors would number in the “tens of thousands” but declined to release specific figures. Saturday’s turnout will pale in comparison to the hundreds of thousands of people who crowded the Capitol Mall in January to criticize U.S. policy in the run-up to the war.

Dozens of students expected to attend the protest will highlight the absence of democracy and weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

“A lot of students are concerned about the security of the Iraqi people and making sure that they have control,” said sophomore Tim Kaladas, a member of Students for Peace and Justice.

While past protests prompted GW to erect security barriers around University facilities near the march route, officials said the lack of planned protests near campus precludes the need for similar precautions precludes the need for similar precautons.

“All of the plans that we’ve seen so far indicate that they are going to keep it centered on the Mall,” said John Petrie, GW’s assistant vice president for public safety and emergency management.

Demonstrators said the war has caused a domestic fiscal crisis that has forced legislators to cut or eliminate funding for social programs.

Protesters’ vociferous calls for the end of the occupation will go unheeded by Bush, said Nathan Brown, a professor of political science and international affairs.

“There is growing political pressure that could result in the Bush administration ending (the occupation of Iraq) sooner than it would have, but I think it comes from casualties and the prospect of the 2004 (presidential) election, not from a single protest,” he said.

Brown said pulling troops out of Iraq would keep the country mired in lawlessness.

“The U.S. has set up a specific agenda for the reconstruction of Iraq and it seems fairly committed to completing that task,” he said.

Michael Barnett
contributed to this report.

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