Thousands rally in Europe against Gaza offensive

Thousands of protesters joined singer Annie Lennox and former London mayor Ken Livingstone at a London rally Saturday to oppose the Israeli offensive on Gaza. Similar demonstrations happened all through the day across Europe.


AFP - Thousands of people demonstrated across Europe Saturday against Israel's airstrikes on Gaza, calling for an immediate halt to the military offensive.

The biggest rallies were in London, where police said up to 12,000 people took part, and Paris where an estimated 25,000 took to the streets.

Thousands of people also voiced their opposition to Israel's military action in demonstrations in Madrid, Amsterdam, Stockholm and the Austrian city of Salzburg.

In London, many demonstrators carried Palestinian flags and chanted "Free, free Palestine" and "Israel terrorists" as they filed along the River Thames before gathering in Trafalgar Square, an AFP reporter saw.

Protesters expressed anger at British Prime Minister Gordon Brown's refusal to condemn Israeli airstrikes, which Palestinian medics say have killed more than 450 people in a week.

About 100 protesters threw their shoes at the iron gates of Brown's Downing Street residence, in the spirit of an Iraqi journalist who pelted US President George W. Bush with his shoes last year.

Zac Sommer, an 18-year-old British-Palestinian student from Essex near London, said: "Britain is quick to condemn (Zimbabwe President) Robert Mugabe, but where is the condemnation of Israel? Israel is killing hundreds of people."

The march, which organisers Stop the War Coalition claimed had attracted 50,000 people, was led by singer Annie Lennox and veteran left-wing politician Tony Benn.

Former Eurythmics star Lennox said the approach of both the Palestinians and Israelis was "wrong" and a total ceasefire was the only option.

She said the intervention from Bush blaming Hamas for starting the violence, had not helped the situation.

"The problem is, from my perspective, they are pouring petrol onto the fire," she told the BBC.

"They have to sit down. This is a small window of opportunity just before things kick off.

"For every one person killed in Gaza, they are creating 100 suicide bombers. It's not just about Gaza, it's about all of us."

British opposition lawmaker Sarah Teather said Israel's military response to the firing of Hamas rockets had been "disproportionate".

"Anyway, what Israel is doing is counter-productive. No terrorist organisation has ever been bombed into submission," the Liberal Democrat MP said.

Elsewhere in Britain, 2,000 people demonstrated in Manchester in northwest England and 500 braved the cold in the Scottish capital Edinburgh.

In Paris, where organisers said 25,000 turned out for a march led by Communist and left-wing politicians, the crowd chanted "We are all Palestinians" and "Israel killers".

Police said 8,000 people demonstrated in the central French city of Lyon, 3,000 people protested in the southern city of Nice and 3,800 in Mulhouse in the east.

Two people were arrested as more than 1,000 marched through the Dutch city of Amsterdam condemning the Israeli airstrikes on Gaza and calling for a boycott of Israeli goods, police said.

Hundreds protested in Madrid, carrying signs saying "This is not a war but a genocide".

More than 2,000 people also demonstrated in the Austrian city of Salzburg.

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