The Guardian 23 March, 2005

All foreign troops OUT NOW!

Last weekend several thousand Australians joined peace actions as part of an International Day of Action on the second anniversary of the invasion and for the traditional Palm Sunday services and peace rallies. The main themes were "All foreign troops out NOW!" and "Peace and Justice for Iraq".

About 300 people gathered on the pavement of the Adelaide offices of Foreign Minister Alexander Downer and Defence Minister Robert Hill last Sunday to protest the ongoing and tragic occupation of Iraq. NOWAR representative Mike Khizam welcomed the participants and reminded them of the international nature of the protests.

Senior lecturer David Palmer from Flinders University drew attention to the South Australian connection to events in Iraq with our commitment of troops and the lack of real interest on the part of Downer in the allegations of torture and other abuse of Australian citizens. Melissa Hughes of Resistance spoke of the tactics being used by Coalition forces and gave horrendous accounts of the suffering of the people at Fallujah.

Chris Gogler gave an impassioned plea for the withdrawal of Australian troops on behalf of the high school students organised in the Student Activist Alliance. Ruth Russell showed grim photos from her collection as she recalled her time as a human shield in Baghdad at the time of the invasion in 2003. She invited people in the crowd to write in a condolence book and take a sprig of rosemary in remembrance of the war's many casualties.

Around 3000 people joined the rally and march in the centre of Sydney, where recently released Guantánamo Bay prisoner Mamdouh Habib was the main speaker. Mr Habib thanked everyone for the support they had given him and reminded them that there was still another Australian, David Hicks, who still needed help.

In the western Sydney suburb of Parramatta Bishop Manning led a Palm Sunday interfaith service. This was followed by a march to Town Square where around 500 people listened to speakers. Bishop Manning was joined on the platform by other speakers including union leader Doug Cameron, Prof Stuart Rees and a representative of the Arab Council of Australia.

Participants came mainly from political (including the CPA and the Greens), church and trade union organisations.

In Perth several hundred people took part in a rally and march through the city centre. Aboriginal activist Sam Watson asked the crowd to spare a thought for the thousands of civilians killed in the past two years. "Today we are reaching across time and distance to express our solidarity with the Iraqi people", he said. "We know your pain and loss, and we stand with you…. next Sunday when our kids are hunting for Easter eggs in the backyard, spare a thought for the children of Iraq who will be dodging bullets and bombs."

Other actions were taken in Melbourne, Canberra, Newcastle, Byron Bay, Wollongong, Darwin and Townsville.

Early reports suggested a crowd of 50,000 in London with other large protests taking place in Greece and Sweden.

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