- Anti-war protesters vandalise memorial -
The Commonwealth war graves commission said today that cemetery caretakers
and visitors were left "shocked, upset and disgusted" after seeing
a British war memorial in France covered with anti-war graffiti.
The memorial at Etaples, near Boulogne on the Channel coast, was daubed in red paint with slogans including "Rosbeefs (British) go home", "Saddam will win and he will make you bleed" and "Dig up your rubbish, it is contaminating our soil".
Etaples Military Cemetery, France
Some 11,000 British servicemen and women are buried at the cemetery, most of whom died defending France in the first world war.
The vandalism was discovered by workers at the site. They alerted the commission`s French division, who set to work removing the paint from the memorial, which is visited by hundreds of thousands of people every year.
Two workers spent two days cleaning off the paint and grinding down the stone to remove the shadow of the words left behind.
Peter Francis, of the Commonwealth war graves commission, said vandalism at the thousands of sites looked after by the organisation was rare but this incident was "particularly foul".
"The reaction of the people who found it was shock, upset and disgust, which was our reaction as well. I think that was also the reaction of the local people and the French authorities and the gendarmerie is now watching the site," he said.
Mr Francis added that two coach-loads of around 80 British tourists had arrived at the cemetery shortly after the graffiti was discovered last Thursday.
"I certainly hope this would not happen again because war cemeteries are not the place to make a political statement. They are there to commemorate the people and the human price paid to defeat tyranny," he said.
The vandalism was condemned by Jack Lang, the Socialist former education and culture minister, who represents the Pas-de-Calais region in the French National Assembly.
He told the local Voix du Nord newspaper: "This scandalous desecration attacks the memory of the sacrifice of British and American soldiers who courageously contributed to the liberation of France."
Meanwhile, a British consular official in northern France told the same paper that the vandalism did not appear to tally with the views of ordinary people in the region.
Opinion polls for the whole of France since the start of the war, however, have shown strong support for French president Jacques Chirac`s stance on the crisis.
A poll carried out for newspaper Le Monde and television station TF1 and published on March 31 found that nearly three-quarters (74%) believed Mr Chirac had not gone too far in voicing his opposition to the White House.
Support for the French premier was particularly strong, for example, among left-wingers, younger people under the age of 35 and those in senior management positions.
Security stepped up for anti-war rally
Police were stepping up security in a southern Pakistani city today ahead of a large rally called by Islamic groups to protest against the war in Iraq.
Even before the march got underway, hundreds of people chanting "Bush is a dog" and "we are with Iraq" made their way to the centre of Quetta, where leaders of the Mutahida Majlis-e-Amal religious coalition were to address demonstrators in the afternoon.
Quetta, the capital of the south-western Baluchistan province, is a stronghold of Pakistan`s pro-Taliban religious parties, including Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam and Jamaat-e-Islami, both members of the religious coalition. The Islamic bloc shares power in the provincial legislature.
"Wake up Pakistanis! Wake up Muslims! It`s time for jihad," blared a loudspeaker calling on residents to take part in the march, the fifth called by the religious coalition in recent weeks in Pakistan`s main cities. All of the recent rallies have drawn well over 100,000 people.
Pakistan is a key ally of the United States in its `war on terror`, but has called for a peaceful solution to the situation in Iraq.
"We hope millions of people will participate in today`s rally to express their anger against America for killing innocent children and women in Iraq," Riaz Durrani, a spokesman for the coalition, said. "The time has come when every Muslim should condemn America for these crimes."
Hundreds of police lined the streets ahead of the march. Past protests have been raucous but largely peaceful.
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