Hundreds of Poles, some declaring U.S. President George W. Bush a terrorist, rallied in Warsaw on Saturday to protest a U.S. request to place a missile defense shield in their country.
Timed to mark the start of the Iraq war, which began four years ago, the rally in Poland's capital brought together socialists, anarchists, pro-Palestinian activists and others angry at their government for giving military support to the U.S.-led invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan.
Many said they feared hosting a base would threaten their country's security, rather than protect it, as the U.S. government says.
"It's not in our national interest," said Edmund Szopka, a 77-year-old peace activist. "We've lived through World War II and don't want any more wars. Being in NATO protects us enough."
Washington is pressing to place missile defense bases in Poland and the neighboring Czech Republic, a system it says would protect most of Europe from Iranian airstrikes in the future. Moscow, however, is furious about the plan and has warned it could lead to a new arms race — even though the U.S. stresses the system is not aimed against Russia.
"It would be another Cold War," said protester Daniel Numan, a 28-year-old computer scientist passing out leaflets advocating the Palestinian cause.
The protesers rallied first in Warsaw's historic Castle Square before marching past President Lech Kaczynski's residence to the U.S. Embassy. There, Filip Ilkowski, leader of Poland's "Stop War" movement, told the crowd that hosting the base risked making Poland the first target of a future nuclear attack by Iran.
According to recent opinion polls, 51 percent of Poles and 61 percent of Czech are opposed to hosting the bases.
Saturday's rally was the largest so far in Poland since the U.S. made a formal request in January to both countries, while Czech opponents have also staged a couple of small protests.
Signs drifting through the crowd included: "No to U.S. bases," "No to war with Iran," and "George Bush terrorist No. 1."