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Area residents among 100,000 protesting war in D.C.

WASHINGTON An estimated 100,000 people, including about 140 from Western New York, jammed the streets Saturday for the capital's largest anti-war protest since the March 2003 invasion of Iraq.

With President Bush monitoring Hurricane Rita at a military command center in Colorado, a large and diverse crowd amassed on the Ellipse behind the White House for a marathon rally, march and concert that was scheduled to stretch late into the evening.

They heard anti-war speakers such as Cindy Sheehan, the California mother who staged a vigil last month near Bush's Texas ranch to protest the death of her soldier son and more than 1,900 other American troops.

"We mean business, George Bush," Sheehan told the crowd. "We're going to Congress, and we're going to ask how many other people's children are they willing to sacrifice for the lies."

Anger could be felt throughout the crowd, which ranged from teenagers cloaked in black bandanas to middle-aged parents toting toddlers to elderly couples walking hand in hand.

Together they shouted the slogan of the day: "What do we want: Troops out! When do we want it? Now!"

Western New Yorkers echoed that sentiment.

"I'm angry at the administration for the constant lies," said Brian Wragge, 27, an electrician from Ellington, in Chautauqua County. "Something like this is needed to put pressure on the administration."

Organizers, including International ANSWER and other anti-war groups, said they hoped to attract 100,000 people to the protest.

D.C. Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey said, "I think they probably hit that."

Gathered under slate-gray skies and fending off occasional drizzle, the protesters said they hoped the march would build the anti-war momentum that, according to recent polls, appears to be growing nationwide.

"I hope it will wake up Congress," said Joan Healy, 67, of East Aurora. "I know it won't change Bush's mind."

Colin Eager, executive director of the Western New York Peace Center, said two buses and a caravan of vehicles headed south from Buffalo for the protest, carrying about 140 people. That's the biggest crowd the Peace Center has mustered for any of the out-of-town peace rallies since the war started.

"I just think we've reached a tipping point in terms of this war," Eager said.

Several protesters portrayed the war as a bad influence on young people, in more ways than one.

"The money being spent on this war is mortgaging my childrens' future," said Vivian Waltz, 43, of Hamburg, who traveled to the protest with her son Jonah Waltz-Rieber, 9.

Meanwhile, Jesse Alt-Winzig, 11, of Amherst said he doesn't like what he hears from some of his classmates about the war.

"Bush is lying to the kids," he said. "Because of Bush, the kids think the Middle East is a bad place, so we should bomb them. But I don't think that's right."

Others aren't so sure. A few hundred war supporters gathered near the FBI building for a counter-protest, and while words were exchanged between the two sides, the words never ended in confrontation.

Earlier in the day, a group of families who lost loved ones in Iraq held a news conference to voice their continuing support for the war.

"In the past we tried to be isolationist and it didn't work," said Von Ibbotson of Albion, Ill., who lost a son in the war. "Our leader this time has decided to go against the bad guys."

Such sentiments were rare on the streets of downtown Washington on Saturday, however.

Instead, people marched through the streets bearing signs with slogans like "Bush Lied. Thousands Died." One woman, on a bicycle, sported a bumper sticker that featured Bush's picture and said: "I didn't have good intelligence."

But now, protesters said, it's time both for the public and the Congress to wise up.

"We've got to wake up to a great democratic awakening," said prominent African-American scholar Cornel West. "We have to take power in the face of abuse of it."

The protest in the capital showcased a series of demonstrations in foreign and other U.S. cities. A crowd in London, estimated by police at 10,000, marched in support of withdrawing British troops from Iraq.

News Washington Bureau assistant Patrick Gavin and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

e-mail: jzremski@buffnews.com.

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