Thousands join anti-war protest in Bern

Thousands in Bern said "no" to war in Iraq Keystone

Around 40,000 demonstrators gathered in the Swiss capital, Bern, on Saturday to protest against a possible war in Iraq.

This content was published on February 15, 2003 - 18:37

Organised by anti-war groups, the rally - one of the biggest ever in Switzerland - coincided with similar demonstrations across Europe and the rest of the world.

Political parties such as the Social Democrats and the Greens, as well as trade unions and aid organisations, such as Heks and Caritas, joined the protest. People from all walks of life, young and old, also took part, expressing their desire to avoid conflict in Iraq.

So many people joined the protest, in fact, that the square in front the federal parliament was too small to hold them all during the official speeches.

Carrying banners bearing slogans such as "No to war against Iraq" and "No blood for oil", demonstrators called on the government to refuse requests for assistance from the United States and its allies, including the use of Swiss airspace.

The anti-war movement is also demanding that the Swiss government take a clear stance in the United Nations against war in Iraq.

Strong opposition

The rally came one day after United Nations weapons inspectors told the Security Council that they had not found weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

"We want the Swiss government to say clearly in the UN that they are against this war," said Nico Lutz, one of the organisers of Saturday's demonstration.

"We want the Swiss government to say that they won't allow military planes to fly over Switzerland and to stop military cooperation with all states at war - this means the US and Britain."

Franziska Teuscher, a Green parliamentarian, told the protesters that the authorities should also meet with the ambassadors of the United States and Britain, and request that their governments put an end to their preparations for war.

The organisers also launched on Saturday a petition called "Not in our name." Its text demands that the government remain uninvolved in any war against the Iraqi people.

Human cost

Lutz - along with many protesters - stressed that Saturday's rally should not be seen as show of support for the Iraqi leader, Saddam Hussein.

"We are as opposed to Saddam Hussein's dictatorship as we are to a war against Iraq," echoed André Daguet of the Swiss Federation of Trade Unions.

Uppermost among demonstrators' concerns was the potential humanitarian catastrophe likely to ensue following any attack.

United Nations' agencies have warned that half a million Iraqis could be wounded and a further five million displaced by a conflict.

Ali Al-Aboudy, an Iraqi refugee, warned of the inevitable human tragedy, as well as questioning Washington's motives for attacking his homeland.

"I was there in 1991 and saw women, children and old people attacked - and not Saddam," he said.

"America doesn't want to overthrow Saddam, it wants to rule Iraq."

swissinfo, Samantha Tonkin

In brief

The demonstration was one of many that took place across Europe and the rest of the world on Saturday.

Political parties such as the Social Democrats and the Greens, as well as trade unions and aid organisations, took part in the protest.

Demonstrators called on the government to take a clear stand in the United Nations against a war and to refuse to assist the United States and its allies.

Millions attended similar rallies in London, Rome, Paris, Berlin and New York.

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