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Germany

Thousands March in German Peace Protests

Germans hit the streets over Easter to demand an end to the U.S.-led occupation of Iraq. That issue was the main rallying cry for the peace protests, but social justice and disarmament issues were also on the agenda.

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Thousands protested Sunday against an air force training area near Wittstock

Some 8,000 peace activists -- literally -- drummed up support Sunday for a regional initiative in the German state of Brandenburg, which is fighting against a planned air force training area near the town of Wittstock. The peace march organized by a local citizens group named "Free Heath" was one of the bigger protests in Germany, where, according to organizers, almost 100,000 demonstrators turned out up and down the country.

The turnout over the Easter holiday was lower than last year, when the United States-led coalition had just invaded Iraq, said Hans Peter Richter from the Berlin Peace Coordination Office. But the occupation remained high on the agenda this year.

"This war has led to more hatred in the Arab world against Western civilization," Richter told DW-Radio. "That is why the peace movement is focusing on the Iraq war again this year. But we are also attacking the German government for its plans to spend more than €24 billion ($29 billion) in an effort to transform the Bundeswehr into an intervention force. The money would be better spent on humanitarian and civilian projects of foreign policy."

A long tradition

Ostermarsch Demonstration in 1982

German demonstraters in 1982 protested against nuclear armament in a 65-kilometer long, three-day march from Duisburg to Dortmund in West Germany.

Traditional Easter peace marches originated in Great Britain in the 1960s to support nuclear disarmament. In Germany, the movement reached its climax in 1983 when about 700,000 people marched in protest against the deployment of nuclear medium-range missiles in Western Europe.

With the Cold War now over, Hans Peter Richter said, there had been a shift of focus at German peace marches. Protests are now aimed at both peace and social concerns.

"At that time we were really facing the nuclear Holocaust because the nuclear weapons' deployment came at the height of Cold War tensions," Richter said. "Protesters' motivation today is marked by the wish to become involved in resolving society's problems. This also includes taking to the streets at Easter in protest of Chancellor Schröder's economic and welfare reforms."

In a march between the cities of Essen and Bochum, in western Germany, for example, protesters held banners saying: "Yes to a social Europe -- No to the European Union military constitution."

A rally held at the former Nazi concentration camp Buchenwald recalled the pledge of the camp’s survivors that struggling for peace and freedom was one of the goals to be learned from the Holocaust. The peace activists there said that the situation in Iraq should serve as a reminder that peace and democracy cannot be achieved by military force.

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