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Europe

Thousands Turn Out for Protests in Germany

Anti-war protesters took the streets from Berlin to Münster on Saturday to take part in mass demonstrations and human chains against the military action in Iraq.

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Nein Danke: Berliners protest the war in Iraq.

They came with balloons, signs and banners and they held hands -- 80,000 of more or less.

More than 40,000 people on Saturday joined hands to form the longest human chain ever created in the states of North Rhine-Westphalia and Lower Saxony in Germany. The human chain connected Münster's city hall with Osnabrück's -- some 50 kilometers down the road.

Mechtild Dehmel of Münster was among the protesters. For the gray-haired woman, the call to action freshened her memories of World War II. "I experienced the war myself as a medic and later nursing soldiers," she said. "I remember hearing the mens' screams, their worries about their families and I remember them dying. It was terrible and I had almost forgotten about it actually. But now it's all coming back to me. The only thing I can think about right now is Iraq, the people there and everything that's happening. I think it's really terrible."

Nationwide events

Across Germany on Saturday, close to 100,000 people took to the streets to protest against the war in Iraq. In Berlin, police estimated that 50,000 people gathered near the Siegessäule statue in the city's massive Tiergarten park. Several thousand war opponents also temporarily blocked the entrance to the U.S. military's European Command headquarters in Stuttgart. And in Frankfurt, 2,000 held a sit-in in front of the U.S. Air Force support base at the airport, which led to the arrest of nearly 100 people.

Friedensdemonstration gegen einen drohenden Irakkrieg in Köln

A human chain in Cologne

But the most dramatic event took place in Münster and Osnabrück -- not only because of its scope, but also because of its historical symbolism. The route of the human chain also crossed the site of the final battle in the devastating Thirty Years War in 1648.

"We want this to be a highly symbolic event," said Klaus Mertens of the Münster Freedom Forum, one of the two groups organizing the event. "It's not like we want to get into the Guinness Book of World Records or anything like that. We just want to make clear that people here in Westphalia are also conscious of their historical responsibilities. We are here in Münster and Osnabrück, the cities that first established peace in this region. And this is also the place in Germany where human rights were first established. And that's what this is about."

Private residents, unions, city council officials, church groups and entire schools turned up for the harmonious event. Despite the huge crowd, police reported no problems during the protest.

"I was really impressed that they were able to organize this whole thing in just 10 days," said Manfred Heiers, an officer with the Münster Police Department. "Normally, a chain like this would take several months to prepare."