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Protests Italy 200,000-300,000 as PM Meets Bush [The Hindu]

The Hindu Tuesday, October 16, 2001
Protests in Italy as PM meets Bush
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Online edition of India's National Newspaper--

and British strikes against Afghanistan.

The Hindu
Tuesday, October 16, 2001

Protests in Italy as PM meets Bush

By Vaiju Naravane

PARIS, OCT 15. In what has been described as the biggest
demonstration of its kind in Italy for over a decade, an estimated
200,00 to 300,000 persons staged a peace walk from the cities of
Perugia to Assisi. Bearing placards and banners saying Stop War!,
the marchers, all along the 24-km stretch, shouted slogans and
chanted anti-war songs to express their hostility to the current U.S.
and British strikes against Afghanistan.

The road they travelled is the same taken by Saint Francis of
Assisi, founder of the Franciscan order. The peace march was
created in 1961 by the Italian left during the height of the cold war.
But not since the Cold War years have so many people joined it.
The marchers were supported by the Roman Catholic Church. The
marchers included many prominent Italians including Mr.
Francesco Rutelli, who led the left-wing alliance in legislative
elections earlier this year and former left wing Prime Minister, Mr.
Massimo D'Alema. Not even during the Gulf War or the one in
Kosovo did the peace march attract so many people.

The march is an embarrassment to the Government of the
conservative anti-communist Prime Minister, Mr. Silvio Berlusconi,
who is in Washington today for talks with the U.S. President, Mr.
George Bush.

Mr. Berlusconi has been bending over backwards in his attempts to
be useful to Washington. So far, most major European leaders
have met Mr. Bush in Washington. Not so Mr. Berlusconi.
Washington has now bowed to the intense pressure exerted by
Rome and wearily agreed to a meeting. ``I want to tell President
Bush that Italy is ready to do whatever its allies ask,'' Mr.
Berlusconi told a Cabinet meeting prior to his departure.

But Washington had so far turned a deaf ear to Italy's assertions of
loyalty, especially after the Italian Premier committed the
monumental gaffe of stating that Western civilisation was superior
to that of the Islamic world.

``Why are the Americans doing this? We feel sorry for those who
perished in the attacks against the World Trade Center and the
perpetrators of these crimes must be punished. But what has the
poor man in Afghanistan whose five year old boy has been killed to
deserve the wrath of America? The U.S. must be made to
understand that it cannot behave like a cowboy any more. It is U.S.
policies of support to the Taliban and Pakistan and corrupt regimes
like Saudi Arabia that has given us the likes of Osama bin Laden in
the first place. Why does the U.S. not do its mea culpa about that
?'' asked a retired schoolteacher from Como who made the trip to

As the bombing of Afghanistan continues, there is growing
resistance across Europe. The Greens and their allies
demonstrated in Paris. Over 25,000 persons demonstrated in
Germany and there were demonstrations in London as well.

The French Health Minister, Mr. Bernard Kouchner, who was one of
the founders of Medecins Sans Frontiers - the world's most
respected medical NGO - and who was U.N. Administrator in
Kosovo said in an interview: ``Is it good to bomb Afghanistan like
this? Perhaps. But the campaign should now quickly move into
phase two.'' A coalition government should be put into place in
Kabul under the aegis of the United Nations, he urged.

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