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Global rallies protest Iraq war

Muslim leaders call invasion example of U.S. imperialism

TOKYO — Thousands of demonstrators took to the streets in Australia, Japan and Malaysia on Friday for a second day of protests against the U.S.-led war in Iraq, as Muslim leaders around the world denounced the U.S. strikes as imperialist aggression.

Demonstrations also were held in India, Thailand, China and other countries across Asia. They echoed an outpouring of anti-war sentiment in the United States, where more than 1,500 people were arrested Thursday from San Francisco to Washington, D.C.

Authorities were bracing for new protests in predominantly Muslim countries including Pakistan and Indonesia, whose president has condemned the war as a violation of international law.

In Tokyo, at least 11,000 people took advantage of warm spring weather and a national holiday to march for peace.

The protests came hours after President Bush called Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi to thank him for joining Bush's "coalition of the willing." Koizumi backs efforts by the United States, Japan's main ally, to disarm Saddam Hussein and has promised to provide aid for refugees and help rebuild Iraq after the fighting is over.

Students and families carrying placards and giant paper cranes — a symbol of peace — were joined by flag-waving representatives of Japan's main opposition parties and labor unions.

One demonstrator brandished a poster captioned "Oil War" showing Bush's face superimposed on Darth Vader.

"When I thought of the children in Iraq, I felt like I had to come," said housewife Fumiko Nakajima, 38, who was marching with her husband and their two children. "If our government can't stand up to the United States, then we citizens have to."

In Melbourne, Australia, about 5,000 protesters marched to the sound of mock air raid sirens. The demonstration came as officials confirmed for the first time that units of the nation's military were engaged in operations in Iraq.

Labor unions in Greece declared a four-hour strike starting at noon Friday that was expected to shut down airports, banks, public services and transportation.

Schools and universities closed to allow students to participate in protests, and consumer unions called for a boycott of all American products.

Greece's socialist government, which holds the European Union presidency, has supported the protests. Rallies were planned Friday in Athens.

In Germany, police broke up a sit-down protest outside the U.S. military's European Command in Stuttgart. In Berlin, schoolchildren placed candles on a street leading to the U.S. Embassy, which was protected by heavy concrete barriers and fences.

Anti-war activists set up a 10-foot steel peace symbol and an 800-pound bell near the embassy. They said they would ring the bell every half-hour until the war is over.

Muslim leaders around the world condemned the war against Iraq as a product of American imperialism.

"Every intelligent, decent person in the world knows that Bush is lying and that his goal is to control Iraqi oil and to spread his control of countries in the region one after the other," said Sheik Taj El Din Al Hilaly, 62, the spiritual leader of Australia's Islamic community.

Thousands of Muslims in eastern Malaysia burned British and U.S. flags and effigies of the two countries' leaders. Chanting "Destroy Bush" and "Long Live Islam," about 7,000 protesters filled a busy road in Kota Baharu city as police stood guard, witnesses told the Associated Press.

In Bangladesh, thousands marched through the streets of Dhaka, shouting such anti-American slogans as: "Stop the attack on Iraq," "Bush is a war criminal."

In Indonesia, the world's largest Muslim nation, police were beefing up security at foreign embassies and businesses ahead of large protests expected over the weekend.

Shouting "Americans are terrorists!" members of Thailand's small Muslim community led a march on the U.S. Embassy in Bangkok.

In Pakistan, the nation's religious right called for peaceful protests against the war but withdrew demands for a nationwide strike, saying it would hurt ordinary Pakistanis. But in the tribal northwest — the stronghold of the religious coalition organizing anti-war protests — shops were closed and a strike went ahead.

In neighboring India, police fired tear gas at about 50 people who marched through Srinagar, summer capital of the nation's only Muslim-majority state.

"Don't kill Iraqi children! They didn't kill yours!" the protesters shouted.

Demonstrations were expected in other cities in India, whose government called the U.S. attack unjustified.

Two dozen foreigners in Beijing gathered at the north gate of the city's Ritan Park, located in the embassy district, to protest the military action.

The group marched through the park carrying banners emblazoned with slogans in Chinese, English and Spanish, some of them reading "Not in our name" and "No War."