BERLIN -- In possibly the largest peace demonstrations in post-war Germany, nearly 500,000 people across the country demonstrated yesterday against the gulf war.
The demonstrations, called to coincide with protests in Washington, turned out to be far larger than expected and provided an opportunity for the newly reborn German peace movement to counter claims that it is anti-American and unsupportive of Israel.
Speakers criticized the war but laid the blame on Saddam Hussein and pledged solidarity with Israel.
The largest gathering was in Bonn, where approximately 170,000 assembled in poor weather. The numbers surpassed even those of the protests in the early 1980s against deployment of Pershing 2 nuclear missiles.
Demonstrators had come under attack for criticizing the war but not its causes.
Politicians of all parties also said that the protesters have been slow to condemn Iraq's missile attacks on Israel.
But yesterday, speakers went out of their way to support Israel, condemn Saddam Hussein and criticize German industry, which sometimes illegally supplied Iraq with weapons and high technology.
"It isn't anti-American to criticize America. What is anti-American is selling weapons that kill American soldiers," Heinz-Werner Meyer, head of the Federation of German Unions, said at the Bonn demonstration.
In Berlin, marchers met downtown to hear speeches and music. Police estimated that 50,000 people took part in the peaceful demonstration against the war. Many people carried banners supporting Israeland a group of young Arab men shouting anti-Israeli slogans was hooted down.
The support for Israel comes in the wake of television coverage of the Iraqi missile attacks on Tel Aviv and criticism from the German Jewish community that protesters have focused on Iraqi casualties but not Israeli deaths.