Thousands rally in world capitals against Israel

LONDON Sat Jan 10, 2009 10:46pm GMT

1 of 8. A protestor is escorted by police during a demonstration against the conflict in Gaza, in London, January 10, 2009.

Credit: Reuters/Eddie Keogh

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LONDON (Reuters) - Demonstrators in Washington marched under Palestinian flags and tens of thousands rallied in cities across Europe and the Middle East on Saturday to protest against Israel's offensive in Gaza.

Clashes with police broke out at some rallies in Europe. Danish police said they arrested 75 people at a demonstration in Copenhagen after activists smashed car windows, threw eggs at buses and attacked a McDonalds outlet.

In Washington, several thousand demonstrators gathered in a park opposite the White House to protest the Bush administration's backing for Israel.

"Free Palestine. Let Gaza live!" they chanted as they marched. Some banners called on incoming President-elect Barack Obama to change U.S. policy.

"My country gives billions of dollars a year to support a disgusting regime that practices genocide," said Washington resident Mary Carrick.

Police in riot gear confronted around 20,000 protesters brandishing banners and Palestinian flags outside the Israeli embassy in central London, while Oslo police used tear gas against rock-throwing activists in the Norwegian capital.

About 30,000 took to the streets of Paris, many demonstrators wearing Palestinian keffiyah headscarves and chanting "we are all Palestinians," "Israel murderer" and "peace." Some threw stones at police and burnt Israeli flags.

"UNACCEPTABLE WAR"

"We are here to demand the end to this unacceptable war. There are more than 800 victims including numerous children and civilians. We cannot accept that," said Communist Party leader Marie-George Buffet at the Paris march.

Israeli tanks advanced on Gaza and Hamas militants fired rockets at Israel on Saturday as both sides ignored international calls to stop the conflict. Israel is demanding a complete halt to Hamas rocket fire, plus regional and international guarantees to stop the group rearming via smuggling tunnels under the border with Egypt.

More than 40,000 people protested against the Gaza assault in towns across Germany, while demonstrators at the Israeli embassy in Dublin threw shoes and carried a mock coffin, covered with pictures of wounded or dead Palestinian children.

"The haunting images of homes wrecked, of terrified families existing among rubble in shock and despair, and of endless funerals, has rightly outraged people across the world," said Gerry Adams, president of nationalist party Sinn Fein.

"It is time all of this was brought to an end: The slaughter of people in Gaza must end," Adams told a Dublin rally.

Thousands of Lebanese Shi'ites who turned out for the Muslim Ashura festival in the southern Lebanese town of Nabatiyeh also protested against the Israeli offensive, carrying Hezbollah and Palestinian flags.

"We tell the people of Gaza and the elderly in Gaza and the heroes of the resistance, you are not alone, we are with you ... victory is yours, God willing," Mohammed Raad, a senior Hezbollah official, told the crowd.

BURNING FLAGS AND FIREWORKS

In Athens, hundreds of riot police carrying plastic shields watched as about 2,000 demonstrators marched to the Israeli embassy, fearing a revival of violent street protests which rocked the city last month.

Thousands marched in Sweden's biggest cities, burning Israeli flags and setting off fireworks.

Protesters gathered in several Italian cities, some shouting "Free Palestine, Gaza will win" while others burnt an Israeli flag. Protests in Poland were largely peaceful.

In the second day of protests in San Francisco, demonstrators on either side of the conflict shouted at each other outside City Hall on Saturday, waving signs as police looked on.

The pro-Israeli protesters that organized the demonstration and march gathered behind barricades holding Israeli flags and signs reading "Stop Missile Attacks on Israel" and "We Stand for Peace, We Stand with Israel."

On the other side of the barricades marched pro-Palestinian protesters carrying "Let Gaza Live" signs.

Support for an end to the assault also came from Africa, where Benin voodoo priests sacrificed a cock, spilling its blood on the ground, as they offered prayers and sacrifices to gods and ancestors to seek an end to fighting in Gaza and elsewhere.

(Reporting by Tim Castle, Lefteris Papadimas, Jean-Baptiste Vey, Veronique Tiso, Anna Willard, Jonathan Saul, Aasa Christine Stoltz, Deepa Babington, Gelu Sulugiuc, Robert Strybel, Dave Graham, Yara Bayoumy, Anthony Boadle and Victoria Klesty; writing by Sophie Hares and Mark Trevelyan)

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