LONDON — Thousands of anti-war and anti-globalization activists marched through central London and filled Trafalgar Square on Sunday to protest the U.S.-led coalition's presence in Iraq.
The march marked the culmination of the third European Social Forum — three days of speeches, workshops and debates largely dominated by Iraq and the U.S. presidential election.
Marchers carried signs reading "World's No. 1 Terrorist" over a picture of President Bush. British Prime Minister Tony Blair was also a target, with placards reading "Out with Blair."
Several activists blew loud whistles or joined in political chants as they trudged through the capital on a cold, rainy day. Police estimated that 15,000 to 20,000 people set off from Russell Square around 1 p.m., but organizers announced that 75,000 had reached Trafalgar Square by 3:30 p.m.
While the forum discussed a range of issues concerning privatization and globalization, the march was almost overwhelmingly devoted to opposition to the war in Iraq and the Bush administration.
"I've been coming to every demonstration against Bush I can," said Liz Mawl, a resident of London carrying an "Out with Bush" sign.
"His foreign policy is very destabilizing for the entire international community, and I'm not sure Americans realize that's bad for them as well," she said.
Many of the marchers said they hoped to send a message to American voters ahead of the Nov. 2 U.S. elections through the demonstration.
"I think our message to Americans is simple: Don't vote for Bush," said Emma Jane Berridge, a London resident.
The protest was largely peaceful, but police arrested nine men for a range of offenses, including possessing a weapon, assaulting a police officer, possessing cannabis and breach of the peace. The arrested men were three Italian nationals, two Britons, a Dutchman, a Greek, a Frenchman and a Spaniard.
Paul Bigley, the brother of British engineer Ken Bigley, who was taken hostage and beheaded in Iraq, sent a message of support.
"The more people raise their voices, the safer we will all be," Bigley said in a statement read to the crowd.
Most activists were happy to distinguish between Bush and his country. Some chanted that the United States was a "terrorist state," but the majority of the criticism was leveled at Bush's foreign policy rather than America as a nation.
"These rallies are always anti-Bush, nothing more," said Andrea Needham, who carried her daughter, Esme, with a sign proclaiming "Babies go waaaaa for Bush."
"I've never met anyone at a rally who was anti-American, even though that's how the media like to portray these protests," she said.
One American on the march said taking part was bittersweet.
"Watching this makes me want to cry," said Erin Kiefer, a student from New York carrying an "Out with Bush" sign. "I know it's anti-Bush and not anti-American, but it kills me that he represents our nation so poorly, that he speaks for us as Americans."
The march was organized in conjunction with the forum by the Stop the War Coalition and the Muslim Association of Britain.