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Rally against the war draws 2,500 to Ottawa

Peggy Land, Murray Long and Gianne Broughton -- peace marshalls
at the rally.                                                                   -- photo by Kofi

Ottawa, May 29, 1999

by Carl Stieren

More than 2,500 people came to a rally to end the war in Yugoslavia on Saturday. Buses came from Montreal and Toronto to take part in the rally and peace march from Parliament to the Ministry of National Defence (i.e., War). Labour unions provided funding for buses for union members and others to voice their opposition to the war.

On the Laurier Avenue bridge where the rally ended, Peggy Land of Ottawa Meeting led a Serbian children's chorus in "Give Peace a Chance", chanting words she and a colleague wrote as rap lyrics in between. A dozen marshalls, most of them Friends, succeeded in keeping the crowd moving and to narrowly avoided the escalation of a confrontation outside the U.S. embassy.

Speakers included David Orchard, founder of Citizens Concerned about Free trade, and the runner-up in the Conservative Party race for leader last fall. After Orchard spoke, the speakers at the Parliament Hill rally began getting angrier and angrier.

After the final musical act, the rally was supposed to start marching past the U.S. Embassy on Wellington Ave. on the way to the Department of National Defense. But as the marshalls were trying to gather people to go, a Serbian nationalist speaker grabbed the microphone and began inciting the crowd, in English and in Serbian. As part of the crowd reached the U.S. embassy, they confronted the police anti-crowd team. This team of policemen, whose grey uniforms, plastic shields and long truncheons gave them more than a slight resemblance to Darth Vader, had cordoned off the street immediately in front of the embassy. Some demonstrators began heckling these police officers, but when the news of the confrontation at the embassy reached the head marshall (this reporter), he made the decision to return to the embassy and move the rest of the march around the militants. After a brief sit-in on the street, the militants also moved on. The rest of the march, past the War Memorial and the British High Commission (the equivalent of an embassy in Commonwealth countries), was uneventful except for a couple of young girls, who insisted on holding up the marchers by drawing chalked slogans and pictures in the middle of every intersection.

The rally gathered on the Laurier Ave. Bridge beside the Department of National Defense to hear the final speakers and musical groups. Some demonstrators used the large chalk that had been handed out earlier to draw peace symbols and "Stop the War" signs on the pillars of the Department of Defense building. Professor Michel Chossudovsky spoke to encourage the crowd to form a national alliance out of the city coalitions that have been forming from Montreal to Vancouver. Radmila Swann of the Serbian Heritage Society gave a concluding thank-you speech and the rally ended -- until next time.

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Written May 27, 1999, by C.S.