March 20, 2003

20 March 2003: Dressed as mourning Iraqi mothers, Greek actresses carry children's coffins as they take part in one of the biggest demonstrations ever held in Athens, a few hours after the US fired the opening salvos in its invasion of Iraq. Over 100,000 anit-war protesters, many of them high-school and university students, teachers and labour activists, marched on the US embassy in Athens while similar mass demonstrations were held throughout Greece in protest at carnage in Iraq. In the small hours of March 20, the United States finally launched its 'shock-and-awe' war against Iraq that has divided the world for months, triggering worldwide protests by millions of people.

Battleships and submarines in the Red Sea fired Tomahawk cruise missiles at targets in Baghdad. After dark on March 20, US forces on Iraq's southern border with Kuwait opened fire with howitzers and multiple-rocket launchers, inaugurating the ground war. At the same time, US and British aircraft from carriers, including F117 Stealth fighters intensified the bombardment of the capital. As EU Council president, Prime Minister Costas Simitis said he was 'deeply saddened' that a peaceful solution to the Iraqi crisis had not been found. Foreign Minister George Papandreou told the European Parliament: 'We all regret that we haven't been able to solve this problem in the international community in a united way and peacefully.' A candlelight vigil was held at the US embassy after midnight, and teachers' unions around Greece gave students the day off to take part in the demonstration at Syntagma Square and the march to the embassy later that same day. In other demonstrations on March 20, more than 20,000 people marched to the US consulate in the northern port city of Thessaloniki, while about 15,000 rallied outside the British consulate in the western port of Patra. Thousands of people had earlier held a candlelight vigil outside the US consulate-general in Thessaloniki. The leader of the Greek Orthodox Church urged Greeks to pray for peace. 'Now that preventing the war in Iraq is no longer humanly possible, the church calls on all Orthodox to pray, , Archbishop Christodoulos said. Earlier on March 19, Ecumenical Patriarch Vartholomeos in Constantinople still expressed his hope that the looming war in Iraq be averted 'so that humanity may not weep for new innocent victims and horrible holocausts. The basic precondition for peace is the respect for the holiness of the human race, its freedom and dignity.

Dimitris Yannopoulos

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(Posting date 15 May 2007)

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