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Italy hosts anti-war marches

Demonstrators march behind a banner which reads
Demonstrators march behind a banner which reads "Florence Open City Repudiates The War"

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MILAN, Italy -- Thousands of Italians took to the streets for the second week in a row to protest against a possible U.S. military strike on Iraq.

An estimated 100,000 people marched in Italy last week to coincide with a Stop the War Coalition demonstration in London.

Thousands again carried banners and chanted anti-war messages in peace rallies across Italy on Saturday. Church bells also rang out in Florence in a message of peace.

The anti-war coalition, including union leaders, left-wing politicians and anti-globalisation groups, said demonstrators in 100 cities from Milan in the north of the country to Sicily and Naples in the south took part.

The marches were due to culminate in a large evening rally in Rome and other cities, organisers said.

"Against the war without ifs or buts!" one Milan banner read.

U.S. President George W. Bush, supported by UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, is leading the call for a new U.N. Security Council resolution that would threaten military action against Iraq unless it complies with demands on re-admitting weapons inspectors.

They want President Saddam Hussein to let in the inspectors so they can locate and destroy any weapons of mass destruction accumulated since 1998 inspectors were last in the country.

Iraq denies the charges and recently agreed to let U.N. arms inspectors into the country to carry out searches.

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has been supportive of the U.S. line, saying that Italy had a duty to support Washington's diplomatic and military efforts to disarm Iraq comparing Hussein to Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler.

He recently told parliament that Rome would not flinch from conflict if that were the only way to disarm Baghdad.

In a separate anti-war rally in Geneva, Switzerland, about 2,000 demonstrators carried banners and shouted slogans.

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