Rallies mark the first anniversary of the war in Iraq

More than 3,000 people protested in Bern to show their opposition to the occupation of Iraq

More than 3,000 people took to the streets of Bern on Saturday to mark the first anniversary of the start of the United States-led war in Iraq.

This content was published on March 20, 2004 minutes

However, turnout was significantly lower than a year ago amid splits in the anti-war movement’s ranks.

A year ago anti-war campaigners persuaded thousands of students, leftwing organisations, trade unions and Christian groups to stage protests across the country.

Three days before the US-led invasion began, more than 30,000 people demonstrated in Bern against the war.

A month earlier, around 40,000 people had marched through the Swiss capital.

“Before and after the beginning of the war, people had a clear reason to demonstrate,” parliamentarian Josef Lang told swissinfo. “Last year it was important to show opposition.”

“The peace movement has not lost its significance, but it has entered a phase of reflection, which has highlighted the differences between the various groups of the coalition.”

Splits in the ranks

This year there was not the same sense of unity and some groups distanced themselves from the anti-war coalition.

“We do not support the demonstrations,” Cyril Mizrahi of the Young Swiss Socialists (JUSO) told swissinfo.

“The organisers of the rallies are not prepared to condemn suicide bombings and the organisations behind them,” added Mizrahi.

But this omission did not seem to bother Switzerland’s Greens.

Hubert Zurkinden, the Green Party’s secretary-general, questioned whether it was “really necessary to condemn this kind of violence every single time”.

For Josef Lang, the key aim is to "fight the roots of terrorism".

"And to do that, we have to answer the question, what comes first: the occupation of Palestine by Israel or the suicide bombings; the occupation of Iraq by the Americans, or the attacks against the occupying forces?"

Madrid bombings

Elsewhere in Europe the attitude seemed to be slightly different, especially in the wake of the terrorist bombings in Madrid, which killed more than 200 people.

“We will also think about the victims of the Madrid bombings,” said Christophe Ventura of the anti-globalisation movement, Attac France.

Tobias Schnebli of the pacifist group, Switzerland without an Army, agreed the “phase of reflection” had allowed simmering disagreements within the anti-war movement to boil over.

This is a view shared by Ahmed Benani, a Swiss political analyst, who suggested it would be better for the anti-war movement not to lose sight of the bigger picture.

“The Swiss groups, no matter whether they are close to a conflict party or not, should fight for an alternative to war rather than hardening their positions.”

swissinfo, Philippe Kropf and Frédéric Burnand

In brief

The US-led invasion of Iraq started on March 20, 2003.

In the run-up to the war, millions of people took to the streets in protest all over the world.

On February 15, 2003, around 40,000 demonstrated in Switzerland – one of the biggest rallies ever.

One year after the beginning of the war in Iraq, peace movements have called for demonstrations in more than 50 countries.

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