Monday, January 5, 2009

Thousands protest in Europe at Gaza offensive

Thousands protest in Europe at Gaza offensive

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Thousands of chanting, banner-waving demonstrators marched in cities across Europe on Saturday to demand a halt to Israeli bombing in the Gaza Strip.

Protests were held in Britain, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain and Turkey as the Israeli offensive entered its second week, and before Israel confirmed ground forces had entered Gaza.

Israeli Arabs held a protest march, Kuwaitis also took to the streets, a day after bigger Middle East rallies, and peaceful pro- and anti-Israel protests were held in New York.

In Paris, police said more than 21,000 demonstrators, many wearing Palestinian keffiyeh headscarves, marched through the city center chanting slogans such as "Israel murderer!" and waving banners demanding an end to the air attacks.

Groups of protesters clashed with police. At least three cars were set alight and about 20 overturned by demonstrators as the march ended near some of the biggest department stores in the French capital.

In London, police said more than 10,000 people staged a march and rally to urge an end to the Israeli offensive against Hamas militants that has killed at least 446 Palestinians.

Similar protests were planned in some 30 other towns.

In many cities people waved shoes -- recalling the action of an Iraqi journalist who hurled footwear at U.S. President George W. Bush in Baghdad last month in a symbolic insult.

British demonstrators threw dozens of shoes into the street as they passed the gated entrance to Downing Street, where Prime Minister Gordon Brown lives, and shouted angrily at a line of 40 police officers on guard there.

"Come to get your shoes Gordon," one woman shouted as other marchers directed chants of "Shame on you" at Brown.

A spokesman said Brown had spoken again to Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Saturday and was pressing hard for an immediate ceasefire.

Leading the march were singer Annie Lennox, politicians Tony Benn and George Galloway and comic Alexei Sayle.

Demonstrators carried Palestinian flags and placards with slogans such as "End the siege on Gaza" and "Stop the massacre."

Israel says rocket attacks from Gaza by Hamas Islamists must stop before it halts operations, but the attacks continued on Saturday. Four Israelis have been killed by Hamas rockets since the offensive began.

ANGER AT WESTERN REACTION

Paul Mukerji, 42, from Birmingham, acknowledged Israel had security reasons but called its action disproportionate.

"The best way for peace for Palestinians and Israelis is to end the occupation," he said.

Ali Saeed, 24, from Luton, said Western governments had failed to condemn Israel's actions.

"What's going on in Gaza is not right ... It's not a coincidence that it's going on in Iraq, in Chechnya, in Kashmir. It's just about going on everywhere. It's almost a direct insult to every single Muslim," he said.

Greek police said they fired teargas at protesters outside the Israeli embassy in Athens. Protesters burned flags and effigies, hurled stones at the embassy and clashed with police during a march by about 5,000 people, they said.

Tens of thousands of people marched in the town of Sakhnin, northern Israel, on Saturday in one of the biggest rallies held by Israeli Arabs in recent years, Israeli media reported. Calling Israeli leaders "war criminals," the demonstrators demanded an end to the onslaught on Gaza, they said.

About 3,500 people marched in Berlin and 4,000 in the western city of Duesseldorf, police said.

Hundreds joined a protest in central Dublin.

Several thousand people demonstrated in Ankara in a second day of protests in Turkey. In smaller protests in Istanbul, demonstrators carried baby dolls smeared with fake blood.

In New York, several hundred pro-Palestinian demonstrators rallied near Times Square in a peaceful protest, calling for an immediate end to the Israeli offensive.

A few dozen pro-Israel counter-protesters gathered just across the street, but there were no clashes between the opposing groups and police reported no arrests.

More than 1,000 demonstrators marched through Kuwait City, with banners reading "Gaza will not die" and "We want a free Gaza." Other protests of at least 1,000 people took place in Madrid, Amsterdam, Milan and Turin.

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