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Friday, March 21

In Spain, protesters hit streets against government's support for war

By Mike Madden | GNS

GRANADA, Spain - Thousands of demonstrators surged through the streets of many Spanish cities Thursday, blocking traffic, chanting and singing to protest Spain's support for the U.S. and British attack on Iraq.

Though the Spanish government joined the United States, Britain and Portugal in pushing for war even without United Nations authorization, polls show nearly 80 percent of Spaniards oppose an invasion. Enormous signs against the war seem to be everywhere in major cities, and Thursday's marches were the second in less than a week.

In some cities, protesters gathered once in the afternoon and again in the evening, closing downtown areas to traffic throughout rush hour.

Before dawn, Spanish government officials were already on radio and television, trying to remind the public that no Spanish troops were taking part in the attacks on Baghdad, which started in the middle of the night here. But that hardly seemed to matter to people marching Thursday afternoon through Granada, which hundreds of years ago had been the seat of Muslim kingdoms in Spain and today has a large Arab immigrant community.

"They're not listening," said Sara Cubas, 21, a student at the University of Granada. "That's why we're marching ... to say, `Don't do this in our name.' "

All week, Spaniards were paying close attention to the looming war. The Spanish media had covered little besides news from the Middle East and the failed negotiations at the United Nations. Even though President Bush's two addresses Monday and Wednesday to the American public fell in the middle of the night here, the speeches aired live on every Spanish television network.

As the deadline for Saddam to flee Iraq or face invasion approached, TV networks counted down the minutes on screen during special "Crisis in Iraq" reports, and they stayed on the air through the night with reports live from Baghdad, Washington, New York and Kuwait.

In subways, museums and sidewalk cafes, talk of war was everywhere. By Thursday night, some leftist parties were preparing to try to charge Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar with war crimes for sending even a hospital ship to the Persian Gulf to support the U.S. effort.

During demonstrations in downtown Granada, protesters at one point surrounded a car driven by Spanish military officers, chanting obscenities at them and waving signs in the windshield and singing, "No war! No war! No war!"

"Everyone in the world says, 'no war.' But the U.S. says, `Yes,' " said Mohamed Said, 32, who came to Granada from northern Morocco 10 years ago. "Now, the war is in Iraq, but in the future it could be in other countries."

For some Americans abroad when the war started, the constant demonstrations were a little unsettling though most of the slogans and signs are directed at Spanish officials, not the United States.

"I think a lot of people here consider the anti-war movement to be an anti-American movement," said Andrew Feldman, 20, a University of Michigan student from Highland Mills, N.Y., who is studying in Seville this spring. Feldman's parents had called him twice by Thursday evening here, mid-afternoon Thursday in New York, to make sure he was OK.

But Said, even though he has no relatives in the United States, pointed out the flip side to that fear: "If I had family there, I'd worry about them because I don't know how the (American) people will react to the war."