Thousands rally against Iraq war in New York

( AFP )- Thousands of peace activists rallied in downtown New York Saturday to mark five years since the US-led invasion of Iraq and to call for an immediate withdrawal of US troops.

Chanting "End the war now!" and waving placards reading "Give peace a chance" and "Not one more dollar, not one more death," protesters sang peace songs and observed a moment of silence to remember those killed in the conflict.

Demonstrators first spread out along a street that runs 3.5 kilometers (two miles) across lower Manhattan, but failed to form an unbroken human chain before coming together for a rally near the city's Union Square.

"We must do everything in our power to end the war and bring all of the troops home," said Leslie Cagan, the national coordinator of the United for Peace and Justice movement, the main group behind Saturday's protest.

"Five years is too many, the war must end now," she told the rally.

Organizers claimed a turnout of 10,000 people. New York police do not issue estimates of crowd sizes.

Arthur Wasserman, who served on a US aircraft carrier during World War II and is now in his 80s, criticized US President George W. Bush's handling of the war and the mounting human cost of the campaign.

"I'm tired of getting screwed over by an incompetent who lied us into this situation. Probably before today or tomorrow is over, we will have had 4,000 of our youth killed. For what?" he asked.

"There are times when fighting is necessary, but this was a totally unnecessary war," he added.

"All those who are so anxious to send our youth to war disregard their needs when they come home. There are 4,000 killed and thousands upon thousands maimed both physically and mentally and our government turns our backs on them."

Another former serviceman from the group Veterans for Peace said he wanted to show solidarity with protesters who have rallied across the country.

"It's time for us to stop playing imperial policemen," said Hugh Bruce, 65, who served in Vietnam. "This war is illegal, it's immoral and most of the American people oppose it."

Demonstrations to mark the March 20 anniversary were held in several US cities this week, but failed to draw the kind of crowds seen either at protests before the war broke out or in the first years of the campaign.

At Saturday's rally, protesters carried mock coffins draped with US and Iraqi flags, while others displayed caricatures comparing Bush to Hitler.

"Together we can end this war," Leslie Kielson, the New York coordinator of United for Peace and Justice, told the rally. "Hopefully we will not be here next year."

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