The first cruise missiles began to rain down on Baghdad at around 3pm Thursday (NZ time), leaving local anti-war activists with very little time to mobilise people for the emergency anti-war rallies that were scheduled to take place in more than 13 towns and cities right across the country.
Stop the war in Iraq. New Zealand.
Momentum is building for anti -war movement
In Dunedin, members of Socialist Alternative (the newly formed CWI group in New Zealand), along with other independent left-wing activists, had been involved in setting up an antiwar group among high school students called Youth Against the War (YAW), which had called for a high school student rally at 4.30pm on Day X. Despite the short notice, around 60 students participated at various times during the hour-long protest outside McDonalds, in the main street of Dunedin, many chalking up anti-war messages on the pavement and 18 people filling in contact sheets to get involved in future YAW activities. At around 5.30pm a small but vocal group of high school students marched behind the YAW banner to the centre of town to join in the Peace Vigil called by the Dunedin Coalition Against War.
At the same time in Auckland around 450 people brought rush hour traffic to a standstill outside the US consulate before marching up Queen Street and on to the offices of the British and Australian Consulates. In Wellington more than 500 people rallied outside Parliament and then marched to the gates of the US Embassy to take part in a solemn vigil.
The weekend saw much larger anti-war demonstrations take place in both Auckland and Wellington, the protests drawing in 10,000 and 5,000 people respectively.
In New Zealand at the moment there is widespread opposition to the US-led invasion of Iraq however there is not the same level of mass anger directed towards the government as in countries like Australia and Britain, since Prime Minister Helen Clark is widely perceived as having taken a strong stand against the war. This could quickly change, though, given the willingness of the Labour government to commit full military and logistical support to a future UN peacekeeping force in Iraq, which would in effect be an army of occupation.
In the meantime, Socialist Alternative and Youth Against the War are raising the demand within the anti-war movement for the NZ air force carrier Orion and navy frigate Te Kaha currently stationed in the Persian Gulf to be withdrawn immediately, as they are contributing not only to the enforcement of the unjust sanctions regime but also freeing up US and British forces to take part in the invasion.