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POLITICS: Marching Round the World for Peace

Tito Drago

MADRID, Oct 2 2009 (IPS) - Activists from many nations will set out from New Zealand Saturday on a march for peace and non-violence that will cover more than 90 countries on five continents, winding up on Jan. 2 at the foot of Mount Aconcagua, in western Argentina.

The coordinator of the march activities in Spain, José Manuel Muñoz Felipe, told IPS celebrations were held simultaneously Friday in more than 300 cities in about 100 countries, “calling for nuclear disarmament, an end to war and the elimination of all forms of violence, whatever pretext or argument is used to justify it.”

Oct. 2 is the 140th anniversary of the birth of Mohandas Gandhi, India’s most renowned practitioner of non-violent resistance, and has been declared International Day of Non-Violence by the United Nations.

Muñoz Felipe stressed that the march has been organised to condemn all forms of violence, including the use of force by the military or police and economic, political, racial, religious, sexual or psychological violence.

The World March for Peace and Non-Violence,organised by the humanist group World Without Wars, was launched in Spain at a Sept. 12 rally in Madrid attended by Bolivian President Evo Morales and Federico Mayor Zaragoza, the head of the Foundation for a Culture of Peace and chair of the board of directors of the Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency.

In addition to Mayor Zaragoza, a former head of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), the World March has the backing of personalities such as the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan spiritual leader, and Guatemalan indigenous activist Rigoberta Menchú, both Nobel Peace Prize winners.

Portuguese writer José Saramago, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, Uruguayan author Eduardo Galeano and renowned U.S. scholar and linguist Noam Chomsky are among the many supporters of the March for Peace.

Montserrat Ponsa, a journalist and justice of the peace in Catalonia, one of the 17 autonomous provinces of Spain, will be representing Mayor Zaragoza on the World March starting in New Zealand.

She was honoured in Catalonia at a Sept. 20 event organised by three local municipalities, as the sole Catalonian member of the March for Peace base team, who will undertake the entire journey.

On Saturday an event will be held in Madrid, including speeches as well as activities, audiovisual presentations and artistic and musical performances for peace. Live coverage of the base team’s departure from New Zealand will be broadcast, and the start of their journey will be marked by releasing 1,000 balloons of all colours.

Rafael de la Rubia, the head of World Without Wars, spoke to IPS before he left for New Zealand about some of the issues raised in the document he read there on Friday, which will be given to the heads of state of nearly 100 countries to be visited by the marchers on their quest for world peace.

After speaking out, of course, against violence and for peace, de la Rubia said he would be asking whether the global direction towards “human calamities of untold dimensions” can be changed.

Such a shift in direction is unlikely without policy changes, the document says, because this year – despite the severe global financial crisis, whose effects have been felt by everyone- a new record was set for military spending.

He said he would be signalling for everyone to join their voices with those of “millions of human beings of different languages, races, creeds and cultures, to ignite human consciousness with the light of non-violence.”

The document says it is “beyond absurd” to argue that nuclear weapons are a means of dissuasion.

It also reminds the leaders of the nuclear states – the United States, Russia, China, France, the United Kingdom, India, Pakistan, North Korea and Israel – that “It is you who will decide between history and prehistory, between humanisation and animalisation, between an earth for all and a world of fear, between a generous earth and a polluted desert. You will be responsible for the social atmosphere that we breathe in the coming years.”

One of the goals of the World March is to “demand the dismantling of weapons of mass destruction, and reconvert an economic system that generates poverty, discrimination and death. It is necessary to safeguard life in order to build a world with equal rights and opportunities for all,” he said.

The March for Peace manifesto demands “nuclear disarmament at a global level, the immediate withdrawal of invading troops from occupied territories, the progressive and proportional reduction of conventional weapons, the signing of non-aggression treaties between countries and the renunciation by governments of the use of war as a means to resolve conflicts.”

De la Rubia’s document finishes on an upbeat note, looking towards the future: “There are thousands of us, and there will be millions, and the world will change.”

The call for peace and non-violence is linked to demands for sustainable and equitable development. As World Without Wars indicates, it is completely irrational that three billion dollars are spent every day on weapons, while nothing is done for the more than 165,000 people in the world who daily die from hunger, a total of 60 million people a year, according to United Nations figures for 2008.

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