Demonstrators protest Condoleezza Rice's trip to Australia

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Thursday, March 16, 2006

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice meets the Australian Prime Minister. March 16 2006

Anti-war demonstrators in Sydney, Australia on Thursday dubbed U.S. Secretary of State Dr Condoleezza Rice a "war criminal" and "murderer." Two protesters were evicted and five people were arrested during protests against the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.

Dr Rice, on a three-day trip to Australia, said she understood why people found it hard to be positive about Iraq when all they saw on their television screens was violence.

Soon after Rice began her speech at the University of Sydney's Conservatorium of Music, two protesters shouted from the rear of the auditorium, "Condoleezza Rice, you are a war criminal," and "Iraqi blood is on your hands and you cannot wash that blood away." Standing with their palms towards her, the young man and woman repeated their accusation until security intervened to remove them from the hall.

About 15 minutes into Rice's address, a third protester appeared at a balcony door, interrupting her speech as she referred to freedom. "What kind of freedom are you talking about? You are a murderer," said the demonstrator before he was quietly escorted from the hall. "I'm very glad to see that democracy is well and alive here at the university," she said.

In her speech, Rice sought to justify the U.S. occupation of Iraq, describing Iraqis as now more free. One student asked about abuses committed by U.S. forces at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. She said the abuses had made her "sick to her stomach." However, she defended Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where human rights groups say detainees are held in inhumane conditions and in detention flouting international laws.

Before Rice began her speech, about 50 protesters were gathered at the front gates of the Conservatorium. The group were confronted by police on horseback and by police dogs. Police used the horses to charge into the group of activists and push them back, as a police helicopter hovered.

A police spokeswoman said the group was blocking pedestrian access to the building and that police had spent more than 20 minutes warning them to move. The police then moved in and pushed the crowd back 20 metres. Police say five people have been charged with "hindering police in the execution of their duties."

The "Stop the War Coalition" says Rice is a "war criminal" and is not welcome in Australia. The group's spokeswoman, Anna Samson, says the protest is one of many planned in the lead-up to the third anniversary of the invasion and occupation of Iraq on March 20.

Paddy Gibson, from the University of Sydney's Student's Council, says the protest is in opposition to the Iraq war, and to the use of the University of Sydney's campus to host Rice, "the most powerful woman in the world," who they say is a war criminal. "They're saying, '... you've got Sydney Uni's support to stand up and peddle your murderous hate speeches,' which is what we see it," he said.

"You've got 180,000 people killed, as we said, for no other reason than strategic control of the region's oil resources. And the anti-Muslim racism that's been whipped up to justify this war is being felt by Sydney University students," said Mr Gibson.

Sources

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