A many as 7,000 Iraq war protesters clanged bells, blew whistles and created a gleeful cacophony Saturday night as they spilled onto Chicago's well-heeled North Michigan Avenue in an anti-war pageant to demand an immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops.
The rally marked the third anniversary of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq and capped three increasingly fitful years during which polls have shown falling public support for the war.
The rally included seniors and the middle-aged, people carrying Puerto Rican flags and an upside-down Stars and Stripes. Youthful anarchists and children came too.
March organizers said they expected a crowd of several thousand; Chicago Police Supt. Phil Cline said the numbers had swelled to 7,000 by the march's end, with no one arrested. The multitude was sizable and raucous--a movable, growing street celebration that felt like a Mardi Gras jazz procession.
"The anti-Vietnam movement started with protests like these," organizer Andy Thayer shouted as the throngs gathered in the Ogden Elementary School playground at Walton and State Streets. "If you're going to stop the war, it's not going to be because of some great leader, it's going to be due to regular people like you."
According to the Pentagon, 2,313 U.S. service members have been killed in Iraq.
Another 278 U.S. troops have been killed in Afghanistan since a U.S.-led attack there on Oct. 7, 2001.
When it was on the move, the crowd of protesters stretched for blocks, the cold making cheeks red and hands numb as people clapped and called out, flags and placards fluttering.
A quartet of floats led the march, followed by clamorous thousands that included a marching band wedged into the crowd, marchers with bicycles and children in strollers. Helicopters rattled overhead.
Bystanders watched from sidewalks and police patrolled the median as traffic in the still-open northbound lanes of Michigan Avenue honked in support.
The crowd seemed to grow as supporters joined the procession from the warmth of restaurants and coffee shops along the fence-lined route.
"We are all here for our different reasons, but together our voice is so much more powerful," said 28-year-old Elisa Armea of Pilsen, who marched with friends. "It's time to stop this imperialism and the occupation."
Throughout the U.S., protesters took their anger and frustration to the streets in major cities from Boston and New York to San Francisco.
Protests also were held in Australia, Asia and Europe, but many events were far smaller than organizers had hoped. In London, police said 15,000 people joined a march from Parliament and Big Ben to a rally in Trafalgar Square. Last year's anniversary attracted 45,000 protesters there.
In Chicago, rally organizers had sought protest permits to march down Michigan Avenue since the war's first anniversary, only to have their proposals rejected on grounds the proposed march would snarl traffic.
To get around the obstacles, organizers copied the parade application for the annual Magnificent Mile Lights Festival. Unable to reject the march for its content, the city relented. A spokeswoman for the city's Law Department last week said protesters' politics never were considered.
The crowd rolled into Daley Plaza at 8 p.m. sharp, jamming the cavernous square under the giant Picasso statue.
By 9 p.m., the assembly was gone, with only the blue police lights and yellow Streets and Sanitation truck blinkers flashing in the darkness.
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