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Germany

German Peace Activists Mark Half Century of Easter Marches

Tracing their origins to a "Ban the Bomb" march in Britain 50 years ago, traditional peace marches are being held across Germany over the Easter holidays despite cold and sleet. But the movement has lost some momentum.

peace march in Munich

In Munich, peace activists took to the streets

Back in 1983, the good old days to many peace activists, some 700,000 people would turn up for peace marches across Germany. These days, those numbers are much reduced, although several thousand have turned out in German cities and towns despite miserable weather to raise their voices against the Iraq war, Germany's mission in Afghanistan or the Chinese crackdown in Tibet and to protest war and violence all together.

"This is a signal from a truly anti-war movement," said Willi van Ooyen, who has organized the peace marches in Germany for the last several years. He said the turnout was better this year than last and that some 70 events were taking place between Good Friday and Easter Monday.

There were around 1,500 who turned out in the Bavarian capital Munich, where the slogan on many banners was "halt the foreign deployment of German troops," referring to the 3,500 German troops engaged in the NATO-led mission in Afghanistan.

About 250 people participated at the start of a three-day march in the Ruhr valley region from Duisburg to Dortmund, with calls going out to get out of Afghanistan, keep Germany nuclear free and defend the country's constitution.

There were also protests in Hanover, Wiesbaden, Augsburg and Erlangen, where a couple of hundred demonstrators showed up at each event. On Sunday, activists pulled on their heavy coats and grabbed their umbrellas in Cologne, Gotha, Berlin and other locations to call for an end to conflict resolution through violence.

"War and peace are still an urgent issue," said Matthias Dembinski from the Foundation for Peace and Conflict Resolution in Frankfurt in an interview on German public radio.

Dwindling numbers

But he admitted that the numbers of protestors were down from previous decades, since there was no key issue that motivated a wider audience.

Peace demonstration in Stuttgart

Peace demonstration in Stuttgart

Although this year is the fifth anniversary of the US-led Iraq war, Berlin's refusal to become directly involved in the conflict has robbed the issue of some of the urgency it might have had here.

Many Germans are against the Bundeswehr's participation in the Afghanistan peacekeeping operation, but a lack of casualties from combat operations has weakened any widespread, passionate opposition that might have brought large numbers out to the streets.

"There is simply no burning issue at the moment," Peter Strutynski, an activist who worked to mobilize marchers this year, told the dpa news agency.

UK roots

Germany's own peace marches began in 1960, although the movement sees its roots stretching back to the 1958 march in the UK that went from central London to the nuclear armaments facility in Aldermaston.

peace march in Munich

The banner reads "No to War"

By 1968, German marches were drawing 300,000, due to large-scale opposition to the Vietnam war. In 1983, the height of the movement, 700,000 marched to protest the stationing of medium-range nuclear missiles in western Europe.

Today, however, Germany is no longer on the fault line between east and west.

"There must be a feeling of direct threat and the sense that something is going wrong in your own country that you need to demonstrate against," said Dembinski.

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