A peace rally in central Melbourne yesterday called for an end to any Australian involvement in the US led coalition against Afghanistan's Taliban regime.
Several thousand people rallied in Melbourne's City Square, before marching through city streets to Victorian Parliament House.
The Melbourne rally was organised by a newly-formed co-ordinating committe called ANSWER, " ACT NOW to STOP WAR and END RACISM", was the most diverse gathering of peace activists in Melbourne since the 1970 marches against the carpet-bombing of Vietnam.
While ANSWER is not affiliated to, or connected with, any of the existing political parties or groups, people came from many disparate places: Christian, Islamic and Jewish groups, the green movement, the Australian Democrats, socialist organisations, Kurdish activists, Zimbabwean trade unions, students and refugee advocates.
White flowers symbolising peace were laid on the steps of the building as speakers called for a halt to war and racism. While speakers condemned the horrific killings in the US they called for a peaceful and balanced response based on social justice and equity and the rule of law.
Several speakers mentioned the need to put suspected terrorists on trial at the International Criminal Court, rather than letting the USA (supported by "deputy-sheriff" Australia) cause more suffering among innocent people, such as the starving civilians in Afghanistan.
But there was also an overriding message: that Prime Minister John Howard should not sign up Australia for any US-led retaliation for the September 11 attacks, calling for tolerance at home, and pointing to the inequity of Federal Government policies that support Afghan refugee relief while turning away Afghans seeking refuge in Australia.
Nouria Salehi, from the Afghan Support Group, said the US should pressure Pakistan to stop financing the Taliban and promote democracy in her homeland, but war would only increase the suffering of civilians.
Islamic cleric Sheikh Fehmi Naji El-Imam condemned terrorism "wherever and however it takes place", but appealed to the US not to appoint itself judge, jury and prosecutor by resorting to "arbitrary actions". He urged Australians to maintain the "fair go" ethic towards Muslims.
Catholic Bishop Hilton Deakin told the crowd what was needed was justice, not revenge."Our aim in all of this is peace, not revenge, not massive retaliation," he said.
The Greens' Senate candidate, Scott Kinnear, said any retaliation should have United Nations backing and those who orchestrated the terrorist attacks must be brought to justice independently of governments.
"Australia should put a firm hand on the shoulder of George W. Bush to try and stop any military action," he said.
Australian Democrats Senator Lynn Alison says nobody supports terrorism."But do we want a war to deal with this attack and will a war protect us from terrorist attacks in the future? I don't think so," she said.
Other speakers included Bilal Cleland from the Islamic Society, Sol Salbe from the Jewish Democratic Society and Jackie Lynch from the Socialist Alliance.
Musician David Bridie, performers from Circus Oz and former Tiddas bandmember Sally Dastey also entertained the crowd.
The rally then went up Swanston and Bourke Streets, stopping traffic and chanting "good for the rich, bad for the poor, we don't want your racist war".The protesters then laid daisies on the steps of Parliament House.
Similar protests were held in other cities across Australia at the weekend. The rallying call came from peace groups in the US.
Meanwhile, thousands of protesters marched in Washington on Saturday,
urging a peaceful end to the stand-off with the Taliban in Afghanistan.
South News: 25 September 2001
A meeting of some 100 activists from of over 20 peace, left and environmental groups endorsed an international call against war and formed a new umbrella group in Melbourne's Trades Hall last night to co-ordinate the anti-war events.
Joining with similar groups all over the world under the name ANSWER (Act Now to Stop War & End Racism) it endorsed a Rally at City Square on Sept 30 as part of the International Day of Actions on 29 September
Speakers are to include church and community leaders with musicians including David Bridie, Russell Smith and Manta and a special appearance from Circus OZ a few days before they leave for Vienna.
RALLY FOR PEACE- INTERNATIONAL DAY OF ACTION
Poster for Melbourne rally
Sunday September 30 at 2pm meeting at City Square, cnr of Swanston and
Collins St, marching to Parliament
* No War
* No Australian involvement
* No racism
* Defend democratic rights
For more info email firstname.lastname@example.org or ring 9444 8197, 9419 8700, 9386 4815, 9639 8622
Melbourne's Answer issues statement: 24 September 2001
We join with people all over the world in condemning the horrific killings of thousands of persons in the recent attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon. Our most heartfelt sympathies and condolences are with those whose loved ones were lost or injured. At this moment, we would all like to take time to reflect, to grieve, to extend sympathy and condolences to all.
But we believe that we must do more. We must act now.
We are joining the call from International ANSWER for worldwide rallies
against war and racism. On September 30, there will be a march and rally
at the City Square, as well as around the world. We
call on all people of conscience to take up this call.
Unless we stop President Bush and NATO from carrying out a new, wider war in the Middle East, the number of innocent victims will grow from the thousands to the tens of thousands and possibly more. A new, wider US and NATO war in the Middle East can only lead to an escalating cycle of violence. War is not the answer.
We reject Bush's simplistic argument that we have to choose sides between the US and terrorism. While we oppose terrorism we believe there are other alternatives to military action.
John Howard with the support of Kim Beazley has invoked the ANZUS treaty and committed Australian military personnel to join the US-led forces. We condemn this unqualified support for military action. We call for:
* No Australian military involvement.
* No use of the Pine Gap spy base.
We must also act against racism. Arab and Muslim people in Melbourne are facing racist attacks and harassment. Anti-Arab and anti-Muslim racism is a poison that should be repudiated. We also reject the scapegoating of refugees.
We deplore the spending of vast sums of public money on war. This money is desperately needed for health, education and welfare.
Now is the time for all people of conscience, all people who oppose
racism and war to come together. If you believe in civil liberties and
oppose racism and war, demonstrate on September 30 for the
* No war.
* No Australian involvement.
* No racism.
* Defend democratic rights.