January 3, 2009 / 5:05 PM / 11 years ago

Thousands protest in Europe at Gaza offensive

By Adrian Croft

LONDON, Jan 3 (Reuters) - Thousands of chanting, banner-waving demonstrators marched in cities across Europe on Saturday to demand a halt to Israeli bombing in the Gaza Strip.

Protests were held or scheduled in Britain, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands and Spain as the Israeli offensive entered its second week. Kuwaitis also took to the streets, a day after bigger Middle East rallies.

In Paris, police said more than 20,000 demonstrators, many wearing Palestinian keffiyeh headscarves, marched through the city centre chanting slogans like "Israel murderer!" and waving banners demanding an end to the air attacks.

Similar protests were planned in some 30 other towns.

London police said more than 10,000 people staged a noisy march and rally to urge an end to an Israeli offensive against Hamas militants that has killed at least 435 Palestinians.

In many European cities people waved shoes — recalling the action of an Iraqi journalist who hurled footwear at U.S. President George W. Bush in Baghdad last month in a symbolic insult.

British demonstrators threw dozens of shoes into the street as they passed the gated entrance to Downing Street, where Prime Minister Gordon Brown lives, and shouted angrily at a line of 40 police officers on guard there.

"Come to get your shoes Gordon," one woman shouted as other marchers directed chants of "Shame on you" at Brown.

A spokesman said Brown had spoken again to Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Saturday and was pressing hard for an immediate ceasefire.

Leading the march were singer Annie Lennox, politicians Tony Benn and George Galloway and comic Alexei Sayle. Demonstrators carried Palestinian flags and placards with slogans such as "End the siege on Gaza" and "Stop the massacre".

Israel says rocket attacks from Gaza by Hamas Islamists must stop before it halts operations, but the attacks continued on Saturday. Four Israelis have been killed by Hamas rockets since the offensive began.



ANGER AT WESTERN REACTION

Paul Mukerji, 42, from Birmingham, acknowledged Israel had security reasons but called its action disproportionate.

"The best way for peace for Palestinians and Israelis is to end the occupation," said Mukerji, who said he had spent six months working with Jewish and Palestinian peace groups.

Ali Saeed, 24, from Luton, said Western governments had failed to condemn Israel’s actions.

"What’s going on in Gaza is not right ... It’s not a coincidence that it’s going on Iraq, in Chechnya, in Kashmir. It’s just about going on everywhere. It’s almost a direct insult to every single Muslim," he said.

Protests were scheduled in a score of other British cities.

Around 3,500 people also marched in Berlin and 4,000 in the western city of Duesseldorf, police said.

In the German capital, demonstrators carried pictures of former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and one small girl cradled a doll smeared in blood.

Hundreds joined a protest in central Dublin.

"I just thought the fact that 300-400 people would’ve been bombed, would’ve been killed, was extremely wrong," said Andy Defaoite, a 27-year-old teacher in the Irish capital.

More than 1,000 demonstrators marched through Kuwait City, with banners reading "Gaza will not die" and "We want a free Gaza".

Another 1,000 marched in Madrid, some calling for sanctions against Israel, equating Zionism with Nazism and chanting slogans like "Israel kills, the world just stands by".

Police said about 1,500 people marched through Amsterdam.

About 1,000 demonstrators marched through the Italian city of Milan on Saturday, some burning Israeli flags, with a smaller rally in Turin. (Additional reporting by Laure Bretton, Noah Barkin, Raissa Kasolowsky, George Hatzidakis, Andras Gergely, Jonathan Gleave, Ulf Laessing, Silvia Aloisi, James Mackenzie, Aaron Gray-Block)





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