A march by thousands of protesters demanding an end to the Iraq war turned chaotic Saturday near the Capitol, where hundreds sprawled on...
WASHINGTON — A march by thousands of protesters demanding an end to the Iraq war turned chaotic Saturday near the Capitol, where hundreds sprawled on the ground in a symbolic “die-in.” Police arrested 189 people, including 10 who organizers said were veterans of the war.
Capitol Police used chemical spray against a small number of the protesters and pushed back others who tried to jump a barrier in a self-described effort to be arrested. The “die-in,” in front of the Capitol, generally was peaceful, but scores of arrests came when protesters tried to climb over metal fences and a low stone wall.
Iraq war veteran Geoff Millard, 26, wore fatigues and clutched an American flag as he lay on the ground before he was arrested. “It’s time for the peace movement to take the next step past protest and to resistance,” said Millard, president of the D.C. chapter of Iraq Veterans Against the War.
It was an unruly end to a day that started with two separate, largely upbeat rallies. One began about noon at Lafayette Square, across from the White House, and was organized by the anti-war ANSWER Coalition. The other, a few hours earlier on the National Mall, was organized by Gathering of Eagles, a group of Vietnam veterans, and the D.C. chapter of the conservative group Free Republic. Their message: The Iraq war can be and is being won, and the troops need unqualified support.
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“We just want a chance to show America we don’t agree with the vocal minority,” said Deborah King-Lile, 55, of St. Augustine, Fla.
The march opposing the war was led by about 50 veterans who served in Iraq, according to Iraq Veterans Against the War. Many wore fatigues as the crowd marched down Pennsylvania Avenue, where several blocks were lined with war supporters. At times, back-and-forth shouting grew confrontational and obscene.
March organizers said Iraq war veterans were more involved and visible at Saturday’s protest than in any other similar demonstration since the conflict began. Activists said they are planning “a week of action” meant to push the anti-war movement to a more confrontational stage.
Organizers of the anti-war event said more than 100,000 people attended the rally and march. That number could not be confirmed. A law-enforcement official who declined to be identified estimated the gathering at closer to 10,000; the march permit obtained in advance by ANSWER had projected that number.
Early in the day, Lafayette Square took on a festive atmosphere, with some war protesters wearing wigs and costumes and others drumming and playing music as passionate speeches were given.
Among the speakers were several Iraq war veterans, Green Party leader Ralph Nader and former Attorney General Ramsey Clark, who talked about the Iraqis exiled to refugee camps, left hungry and facing cholera and other diseases. “You can’t believe a word the administration says,” Clark said.
But supporters of the Bush administration, well-represented in the Gathering of Eagles and Free Republic counterdemonstrations, could not have disagreed more. “I’ve seen how leftist politicians hate the military. It’s disgusting. We’re fighting a war not in Iraq but with them,” said Lt. Col. Robert “Buzz” Patterson, a retired Air Force pilot.
Material from The Associated Press is included in this report.