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Thursday afternoon against the war
Osaka protests against the siege of Fallujah
April, 2004
Text and photos by Chris Page
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Japan being a country unused to political demonstrations, given that the demo was arranged only 24 hours in advance, and this being a Thursday afternoon when most people are at work, a turnout of forty was not too bad. The media presence was more impressive, and nearly equal in number to the protesters.

The gathering at the US consulate in Osaka was coordinated with other protests in Tokyo and Fukuoka to offer a petition demanding that the US military lift its siege of Fallujah.

The demonstrators were not exactly your black flag crowd. Nor was there any common thread among them except their objection to the siege. A few were older, retired types in genteel tweeds. There were youngsters in smart casual. There was a westerner in a business suit. In Japan, rebels don’t protest, they hang about eating instant noodles in front of convenience stores — protest is for respectable people.

The small band of protesters lined up in front of the US consulate watched over by burly armed police. The chants of the protesters were interrupted regularly by a police officer with a megaphone, who announced in urgent take-cover tones the approach of all passersby on bicycles.

Between the ranks of the protesters and the opposing ranks of security and press passed a steady stream of office workers and some of those teenage rebels between convenience stores. Some people not wanting to intrude on this intimate little demo hung back only to be forced into the gauntlet of cameras and chants by the police. The passing office workers grinned indulgently at the protesters as if they were committing public foolishness.

A number of protestors made speeches in English and Japanese explaining that the siege of Fallujah was against the Geneva Convention and that the US troops were indiscriminately firing on Iraqi citizens. The passersby went on grinning.

Speeches done, it was time to meet the delegation from the Consulate who had agreed to receive the petition at 4:45. However, they didn't appear.

Soon it was past 5:00 and the protesters repeated their speeches, the police corralled them and shouted about bicycles and the media photographed everything and still there was no delegation from the consulate.

Workers began leaving the building to go home, collars turned up against the protest and the cameras like celebrities dodging the paparazzi. An aging security guard came out to tell the protesters that no one wanted to meet them. The protesters complained through their own megaphones that they had come to present a petition expressing the will of the people and had been met by a janitor. The janitor told them that only those with official business were permitted in the building and pointed to a sign that said the same in both English and Japanese. The protesters protested that a petition protesting US contraventions of the Geneva Convention was official business. The janitor said something that sounded very much like “S’more than my job’s worth,” and went back inside.

It was now nearly five thirty and there was still no sign of the Americans. Phone calls ascertained that since 1:30 the previous day when the protesters had made the arrangement, the consulate had suffered a major change of policy and had decided that it was under no obligation to meet anyone with whom they had an appointment.

The demonstrators took to impassioned chants of “keep your promises!” and the police alerted us to yet another bicycle.

An organiser makes a point with a security guard



Eventually the supposedly brief demo was turning into a siege of its own and so as not to be themselves in breach of the Geneva Convention, the protesters recalled the janitor to receive the petition and broke up.

One witness mused that the passing businessmen grinning patronizingly at the folly of the demonstrators should have been directing their mockery at the consulate. As the representative of a country suffering international image problems, it might have made some effort to not show such foolish arrogance in the presence of so many journalists.


A passerby comes in low

 

Footnote: This demo was in response to the first siege of Fallujah in April 2004. The siege was eventually lifted but in November the same year the US mounted a full-scale assault. Women and children were permitted to leave the city but all men of combat age were turned back at US checkpoints, effectively confining them in a killing zone, regardless of whether these individuals had any links to the resistance or not. The first act of the assault was the seizing of a local hospital, apparently to prevent news of the number of casualties coming out. During the assault the US military used phosphorus weapons, which are banned internationally. They also apparently used thermobaric weapons and it became apparent that soldiers routinely shot and killed injured resistance fighters. The city was all but demolished and civilian casualties were probably in the thousands.

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