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Anti-war protests across NZ

Published: 1:25PM Saturday February 15, 2003

Some of the biggest rallies since the Springbok tour two decades ago took place across New Zealand on Saturday as thousands turned out in the main centres to protest against a war in Iraq.

Two peace groups, the Global Peace and Justice Network and Peace Movement Aotearoa, co-ordinated the marches to condemn American plans to invade Iraq.

The groups also want the New Zealand government to withdraw the New Zealand Navy frigate and Orion aircraft from the Gulf, and to oppose America's war plans.

A large march took off in Auckland at midday, while a plane trailed a giant banner reading "No War, Peace Now" over the Viaduct Harbour - just before Team New Zealand began their third America's Cup defence against the Swiss challenger Alinghi.

At least 7,000 people turned out on Queen St with banners proclaiming slogans such as "Drop Bush, Not Bombs", "No Blood For Oil", and "Ban The Bomb".

The Auckland protesters were a diverse mixture including many families with young children.

Alongside those too young to walk themselves were those old enough to remember the front-line itself.

"I think the American policy is evil and entirely based on ignorance of what war really is, and I am marching today because I have some experience of what war really means," says World War II veteran John Sage.

Queen St virtually ground to a halt around the march.

Several thousand anti-war protesters swarmed onto parliament grounds in Wellington after their protest swelled to numbers too big to be contained in the central city.

The marchers had made their way through the central city but when numbers reached more than 5,000 the organisers decided to continue on to parliament, where there was more space.

Among the crowd, florists handed out leftover Valentine's Day flowers to mothers with babies, while spiky-haired teenagers with skulls painted on their faces joined the elderly as they waved white peace doves.

"Millions of people around the world are rallying today to say no to war, and New Zealand is the first country to send this message," Greenpeace spokesman Robbie Kelman said.

In Christchurch about 100 people gathered for a peace picnic in Victoria Square, and around 500 protesters turned out for a rally in Dunedin.

Hundreds more took part in protests in Hamilton and Nelson.

Prime Minister Helen Clark says New Zealand's position on a war against Iraq has not changed.

She says the government still wants to see continued weapons inspections in an effort to disarm Iraq without war.

Clark says that in this, the government is in step with the protesters.

Thousands of people are expected to be marching in America and in Europe this weekend to oppose the war.

In Melbourne on Friday 100,000 people kicked off the global series of demonstrations which will spread to some 600 towns and cities stretching from Antarctica to Iceland.

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