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Australians rally against war

By CNN's Grant Holloway

Protestors are angry over Canberra's close ties to U.S. policy.
Protestors are angry over Canberra's close ties to U.S. policy.

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SYDNEY, Australia (CNN) -- As many as 50,000 people have gathered in Sydney in a rally to protest against the war in Iraq and Australia's decision to commit troops to the action.

Protestors assembled near Sydney's Central rail station and marched through the city streets before gathering at a park area to the east of the central business district to hear anti-war speakers.

Organizers of the "Walk Against the War Coalition" told CNN that they were happy with the numbers, particularly given the short lead-up time for the rally.

An anti-war rally held in Sydney -- Australia's largest city -- last month attracted around 300,000 people.

Spokesperson Nick Everett said there would be another protest outside Parliament House in the capital, Canberra, on Monday.

A key focus of the demonstrators' anger is the involvement of around 2,000 Australian troops in the war and the lack of a United Nations mandate for the military action.

Many were holding banners reading "Not in Our Name" and "Bring Back The Troops". Others directed their anger towards Australian Prime Minister John Howard, suggesting he is too closely aligned to the U.S. administration.

A papier-mache figure of U.S. President George W. Bush leading a dog wearing a face mask of Howard towered above the crowd.

Some protesters brandished Palestinian flags and placards emblazoned with "Iraq now, who next?" and "Disarm the USA too."

Speakers at the rally included a Palestinian refugee, religious ministers and trade union representatives.

Organizers also handed around a petition calling for federal opposition parties to join together to block the passing of the government's Budget which is handed down in May.

If the Budget were to be blocked the government would be forced to hold a snap election.

Prime Minister John Howard said Sunday he was unsurprised that there were continuing large rallies against the war but he was heartened that the protestors' anger was not directed against the troops themselves. (Clashes in world rallies)

Public opposition to Australia's role in the war seems to be softening, according to recent polls.

Surveys in February showed more than 70 percent of Australians were against their country's involvement in a war against Iraq without a U.N. Security Council mandate.

However, a Newspoll taken late last week shows opinion is now more evenly divided.

The poll of 800 voters showed 58 percent either support Australia's decision to commit forces to the action or believe the troops should remain there now that they are engaged.

The Newspoll found 45 percent in favor of military action, 47 percent opposed and 8 percent uncommitted.

Another poll taken on Friday showed 48.5 percent of Australians opposed to the nation's participation and 46.5 percent in favor.

The use of military force to disarm Iraq by the U.S. alone had 51 percent backing.

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