SYDNEY, Australia - Thousands of anti-war protesters marched in Australia, Turkey and Asian countries at the start of global demonstrations Saturday, as campaigners marked the third anniversary of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq with a demand that coalition troops pull out.
Demonstrations were planned for cities across Europe later in the day. Police in London shut down streets in the heart of the capital's shopping and theater district ahead of a demonstration which organizers said they hoped would be attended by up to 100,000 people.
Around 500 protesters marched through central Sydney, chanting "End the war now and "Troops out of Iraq." Many campaigners waved placards branding President Bush the "World's No. 1 Terrorist" or expressing concerns that Iran could be the next country to face invasion.
"Iraq is a quagmire and has been a humanitarian disaster for the Iraqis," said Jean Parker, a member of the Australian branch of the Stop the War Coalition, which organized the march. "There is no way forward without ending the occupation."
Opposition to the war is still evident in Australia, which has some 1,300 troops in and around Iraq. Visiting Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was heckled by campaigners in Sydney this week, who said she had "blood on her hands."
But Saturday's protest was small, compared to the mass demonstrations that swept across the country in the buildup to the invasion - the largest Australia had seen since joining U.S. forces in the Vietnam War.
In Tokyo, about 2,000 people rallied in a downtown park, carrying signs saying "Stop the Occupation" as they listened to a series of anti-war speeches, said Takeshiko Tsukushi, a member of World Peace Now, which helped plan the rally. Tokyo police were unable to immediately confirm the number in attendance.
"The war is illegal under international law," Tsukushi said. "We want the immediate withdrawal of the Self Defense Forces and from Iraq along with all foreign troops."
Japanese Prime Minister Junchiro Koizumi is a staunch supporter of the U.S.-led coalition in Japan and dispatched 600 troops to the southern city of Samawah in 2004 to purify water and carry out other humanitarian tasks. The Cabinet approved an extension of that mission in December, authorizing soldiers to stay in Iraq through the end of the year.
But public opinion polls show the majority of Japanese oppose the mission, which has been criticized as a violation of the country's pacifist constitution. Many say the deployment has made Japan a target for terrorism.
In Turkey, thousands gathered in Istanbul for protests Other anti-war protests were planned in the cities of Izmir, Trabzon and the capital, Ankara.
Opposition to the war is nearly universal in Turkey and cuts across all political stripes.
"Murderer USA," read a sign unfurled by a communist in Taksim Square in Istanbul.
"USA, go home!" said red and black signs carried by hundreds of the some 5,000 protesters gathered in Kadikoy on the city's Asian coast.
Turkey is Iraq's northern neighbor and the only Muslim-majority member of the NATO military alliance. Historically close relations with the U.S. were severely strained after the Turkish parliament refused to allow U.S. troops to launch operations into Iraq from Turkish territory.
U.S. military planners said the move complicated operations by shutting down the U.S. option of opening a northern front in the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
Since the war, support for the United States has plummeted in Turkey.
Demonstrations were also expected across Europe.
"We will continue until we see the last general running for a helicopter on the roof of the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad," read a statement from Stop the War Alliance, which is organizing a rally outside the U.S. Embassy in Athens, Greece.
In London, Scotland Yard police headquarters said streets around Piccadilly Circus in the heart of the shopping and theater district would be closed as up to 100,000 people planned to march through the capital. Britain has about 8,000 troops in Iraq.
Demonstrations "Against the Occupation of Iraq" were planned Saturday in several Spanish cities, including Madrid and Barcelona.