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German Easter peace marches urge disarmament

Thousands of Germans have marched on Easter Monday for nuclear disarmament and peace. German military export policy, Bundeswehr missions abroad and the current tensions in Ukraine were among the protest topics.

Protesters took part in roughly 80 different events around Germany over Easter, with one of the largest marches in the financial capital Frankfurt attracting around 2,500 people on Monday.

"War solves no problems. Put down the weapons - as current in 2014 as it was in 1914," was the motto of the display at Frankfurt's Römerberg, 100 years after the outbreak of World War I and 75 after the start of World War II.

Ostermarsch Berlin 19.04.2014

Berlin's 2014 protest motto: 'War is being carried out - we're standing against it'

Nationwide organizer Willi van Ooyen said turnout was up on the previous year.

"We want a peaceful world. We want social justice and civil prevention, not preventative wars, and we want a demilitarized, democratic and social Europe," van Ooyen said. "The peace movement will continue taking to the streets for this goal."

Police in Hamburg estimated that 450 people there marched for a ban on German weapons exports and for an end to German Bundeswehr military missions abroad. In the Ruhr region, protesters marched from Bochum to Dortmund on Monday, their final display over the Easter weekend.

British roots, German tradition

Philosopher and Nobel literature laureate Bertrand Russell (1872-1970), a committed pacifist and co-founder of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament in Britain, helped start the Easter peace marches in 1958. The inaugural march went from London to Britain's Atomic Weapons Research Establishment in Aldermaston. Even larger marches over the next few years went in the opposite direction, ending in the capital for greater effect.

The 1958 Alderston march arrives at Britain's Atomic Weapons Research Establishment; the demonstrators had marched from London.

Germany picked up on the tradition soon after the inagural Aldermaston march in the UK

Germans first picked up on the tradition in 1960, holding onto it with much greater verve. In a divided country, split by the Iron Curtain, with missiles poised pointing east and west, the Easter marches remained a major annual event throughout the Cold War and during the nuclear arms race in particular. At its peak in the 1970s and 80s, around one million West Germans would take part each year.

Those numbers have drastically dipped in recent years, but the tradition endures. Mannfred Stenner, who heads the Network of the German Peace Movement, said that the small core of protesters remained committed.

"There is a good atmosphere. The movement is alive and well," Stenner said, who praised "the clear messages of peace from the Christian churches" during the holiday weekend. Stenner said that the church could play an important role in the current tensions in Ukraine.

"The orthodox churches in particular in the crisis regions must campaign much more strongly for non-violence and for negotiations in Ukraine," Stenner said.

msh/crh (AFP, epd, dpa)