Thousands of protesters marched in Australian cities today demanding an end to the US military occupation in Iraq, kicking off a wave of worldwide rallies to mark the first anniversary of the war.
In Sydney, protesters held aloft a five foot-high puppet of Prime Minister John Howard in a cage to represent Australian terror suspects detained at the US military prison camp in Guantanamo Bay.
The puppet also had a Pinocchio-like long nose, a reference to accusations the government lied about the reasons for going to war.
The demonstrations across Australia, along with others planned in New Zealand and Asian locations such as Hong Kong, were expected to be the first globally to mark the start of the Iraq war on March 20, 2003.
“By the end of this 24-hour cycle, millions of people will have marched throughout the world asking their governments not to take them to war and to give them peace,” Pamela Curr, an organiser of the Sydney protest, told reporters.
Howard and his government have been unstinting supporters of US President George W Bush and his government in the war on terror, fighting in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
Australia sent 2,000 troops to fight in Iraq despite overwhelming public opposition to the war.
In Hong Kong, demonstrators were expected to march to the US Consulate.
“Bush’s invasion of Iraq has incited more terrorism. It caused terrible suffering not only to the Iraqi people, but everyone in the world,” said protest organiser and pro-democracy activist Lau San-ching.
In Sydney, an estimated 3,000 protesters marched through the central shopping district chanting “US out of the Middle East, No Justice, No Peace.”
“Many Australians are disappointed that the government ignored their voices,” said Anna Sampson, one of the demonstrators.
“It’s an election year and I think it’s time the Howard government was held to account.” Australia expects to go to the polls later this year.
In the north-eastern Australian city of Brisbane protesters unfurled a 328 feet-long banner with the words ”We still say no to war,” and marched through the city’s streets.
“We went to war in this country on the basis of false premises. That has been proven now,” said anti-war campaigner Annette Brownlie. “The world is less safe now than it was a year ago.”
Terry Hicks, the father of Australian terror suspect David Hicks, who has been detained without charge at Guantanamo Bay, was to address a rally in the south-eastern city of Melbourne.
David Hicks was captured by US troops for allegedly fighting alongside the Taliban in late 2001.
He is only one of two detainees to have been appointed a military lawyer by the Pentagon, but the date for his first court appearance - or the charges he may face – have not yet been established.
The only other Australian, Mamdouh Habib, has also been held without charge at the camp.