PARIS -- In English, French, German and Italian, hundreds of thousands of protesters in cities across Europe demonstrated yesterday against the prospect of a military attack on Iraq.
"No blood for oil," said banners at a protest in Berlin that drew 30,000. "War is a damned stupid thing," said square yellow badges that many of the 50,000 protesters flashed at the Bastille here in Paris, quoting French author Jacques Prevert. In London, 42,000 marched from Hyde Park to Trafalgar Square. In Rome, 30,000 took to the streets.
Five months after Saddam Hussein shocked and infuriated Europeans by his surprise invasion of Kuwait, tempers have cooled and the fear of war has taken root here. Arguments that sounded audacious, illogical or cowardly last August have become less so after five months of daily debate under the unrelenting threat of war.
"Lukewarm determination," a report on France's appetite for war was headlined in the news magazine Le Point. The title of a newspaper piece on the latest public opinion survey was more direct: "The French Say No to War."
Few here expect a confrontation with Iraq to be a limited conflict that would drive Mr. Hussein out of Kuwait. The prevailing expectation is of an apocalyptic struggle.
"If we get into a war, we'll be there for a long time," said Bernard Leroy, a 48-year-old bus driver who drove demonstrators to the Bastille yesterday for the Communist Party, which sponsored the protest. "They'll use chemical, biological weapons. It'll be awful."
"The results will be the end of the world," said 87-year-old Marie Srufova.
Reports in the British and French press describe in harrowing detail the casualties expected to pour into military and civilian hospitals, plans for treating severe burns from chemical attack and the prospects for outbreaks of typhoid, bubonic plague, malaria and other diseases that could result from the use of bacteriologic weaponry.
Government buildings, communications centers and defense research institutes are being reinforced by teams of security police wearing bullet-proof vests, after the Iraqi president's threats of terrorist reprisals. Memories of the Arab terrorist bombings that shook Paris in the fall of 1986, leaving 13 people dead and more than 150 wounded, are still fresh.
The 2,000 or so Iraqi nationals here are under constant surveillance now, and French commentators have begun to discuss whether French law would allow seizing their bank accounts and property, as well as locking them up in internment camps, if hostilities break out.
Conversations stray, at times, but they always return to the main subject these days: the likelihood of war, and its consequences, according to the latest news from Baghdad or Washington or Geneva.
A survey by the Parisian newspaper this week showed that readiness for a war to force Iraq out of Kuwait has dropped considerably since last August, though 12 United Nations Security Council resolutions since then have failed to produce a single hint that Mr. Hussein's forces would withdraw.
A number of protesters here and in Berlin sported the black-and-white Palestinian headdress, the kaffiyeh, and compared the Iraqi occupation of Kuwait to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Saddam Hussein was the first to draw such a parallel, and he appears to have succeeded in intellectually and emotionally linking the U.N. resolutions against Iraq to those against Israel.
Some said that the U.N. sanctions should be given more time to work. Others said that Kuwait was simply not worth fighting for.