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Millions commune with nature on Earth Day 1990

By GEORGE LOBSENZ United Press International

Millions of people in an estimated 141 countries around the world planted trees, flew kites, rode bicycles, picked up garbage, boogied at mass rallies and otherwise communed with nature in celebration of Earth Day 1990.

From dawn's earliest light Sunday, armies of environmental activists from Peoria to Poland to Peru staged ceremonies and cleanup campaigns to mark the 20th anniversary of the first Earth Day on April 22, 1970 and demonstrate a commitment to protect the Earth into the next century.

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Some half-million activists and onlookers thronged a star-studded rally in Washington, another 300,000 turned out in New York's Central Park and hundreds of thousands more tossed environmental parties in Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia, Miami, Dallas and dozens of other U.S. cities.

Overseas, the day was observed on all seven continents, with events as varied as an open-air mass in Poland's heavily polluted Silesia region, a rock 'n' roll show on an island reclaimed from trash in Japan's Tokyo Bay and a kite fly-in at the embattled Lithuanian capital of Vilnius in the Soviet Union.

Among those celebrating the day were President George Bush, who announced a reef protection initiative in Florida, ex-Beatle Paul McCartney, who threw a mega-concert in Rio de Janiero, and Ralph Nader, who warned a crowd in Raleigh, N.C., to beware of corporate polluters posing as environmentalists.

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One of the largest gatherings took place on the west lawn of the Capitol in Washington, where a sun-baked crowd chanted 'Save the Earth!,' danced to rock bands, frolicked in the Reflecting Pool and meandered through a nearby eco-fair featuring a huge inflated globe and a towering wind-power turbine.

The festivities included John Denver, who crooned his well-known environmental anthem, 'RockyMountain High,' and actor Tom Cruise, who delivered an impassioned speech saying Americans had to change the way they lived to protect the environment.

'If we make the environment sick, it's going to make us sick,' said Cruise, who repeatedly drew screams from some bedazzled female fans. 'We must demand changes of ourselves first. Do you recycle? If not, start. Have you planted a tree? Do it. You can change things. We must change things.'

Some remarks had a sharper political edge, particularly those of Peter Bahouth, head of the U.S. arm of Greenpeace, the international environmental group.

Bahouth ripped into Bush's claim to be the 'environmental president,' bringing out a life-size, cardboard cut-out of Bush to drive home his attack.

'To show how deep his commitment to the environment is, we have to turn him sideways,' Bahouth said, showing the inch-thick width of the cut-out.

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Organizers said the rally was the biggest held in Washington since 1980 and suggested its size was a sure sign of the dawning of a 'green decade.'

However, some in the crowd were cynical about the impact of the rally.

'Everybody's going to go home and continue to pollute,' said Tony Lanni, 23, a producer for a sports news network. 'Everybody was bored with speakers. They need someone charismatic to speak. This movement needs a leader.'

The Capitol grounds had numerous cardboard receptacles in which demonstrators were urged to place their cans and bottled for recyling. And after the rally, a team of 160 trash-collecting volunteers fanned out to pick up debris, to be separated into cans, glasses and paper for recycling.

Earth Day extended into Monday in America's most populated city, where demonstrators clogged rush-hour traffic on Wall Street in protest of companies 'responsible for ecological devastation.'

Police in riot gear cordoned off approaches to the stock exhange and arrested several protesters.

Sunday in New York, bicyclists and roller skaters glided across Sixth Avenue, where traffic was blocked for a day-long exhibition of environmentally safe products. Hundreds of thousands jammed Times Square and then marched to Central Park, where mayor David Dinkins hailed the international flavor of the day, saying: 'Today, black and white, yellow and brown, we are all green.'

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At United Nations headquarters in New York, 42 astronauts from America, the Soviet Union and 13 other countries gathered before some 2,000 diplomats to speak about how their common experiences in space had provided powerful evidence of the need for common environmental action on Earth.

The space explorers spoke of looking down at the Earth and seeing the burning of forests and the inky spread of oil spills in the ocean.

The astronauts and diplomats also watched a live 10-minute video transmission from two Soviet cosmonauts in the space station MIR. The MIR spacemen, who have been in space for more than six months, read a message warning about ecological deterioration.

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Among the day's more unusual events across the United States:

--At Rutgers University in New Jersey, students staged a hazardous waste fashion show, with students modeling the latest in protective gear for toxic clean-up workers.

--In New Orleans, almost 1,000 people followed a jazz funeral marching band to Lake Pontchartrain to urge cleanup of the lake. While the cortege played 'Just a Closer Walk with Thee,' many poured clear water -- sometimes bottled spring water -- into the lake as a symbolic gesture. Environmentalists say the lake is polluted by septic tanks, shell dredgers and pesticides.

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--In Dallas, about 1,000 people formed a bucket brigade, passing water from the Trinity River -- which environmentalists say is badly polluted with raw sewage, pesticides and industrial discharges -- to City Hall, where environmentalists stirred a batch of 'toxic soup.'

--The Iowa chapter of the Nature Conservancy announced it has acquired 44 acres of land on which a rare species of snail lives, but it refused to say where the plot was. The group said it didn't want careless animal lovers squashing the snails, which were thought extinct until found alive in 1955.

--In St. Paul, some 5,000 gathered to hear speakers who stood on a podium made of recycled cans, near Capitol steps outlined with 10,000 bottles representing the 10,000 Minnesota lakes. The environmental group North Shield opposed exploration of the Boundary Waters Wilderness Canoe Area by mining groups.

Earth Day began with dozens of sunrise ceremonies, including a mass, pre-dawn walk up Cadillac Mountain in Maine by some 800 flashlight-carrying hikers.

Beachgoers breakfasting at dawn on south Florida's sandy shores watched as a plane flew by pulling a banner urging greater efforts to save endangered sea turtles that use the state's beaches for laying eggs.

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President Bush, vacationing in the Florida Keys, also was up early to observe Earth Day with a morning news conference where he announced a non-binding international proposal to protect coral reefs off the Keys by closing those waters to big ships and hazardous cargo.

Standing on the beach under a palm tree, Bush also said he would soon announce a decision on a proposal to ban off-shore oil drilling off the Keys. He told supporters of the ban they would not be 'too disappointed' by his decision, but he refused to elaborate.

Later in the day, about 3,000 Miami Earth Day celebrants heard speakers chastise Bush for fishing off the Florida Keys while hedging on banning offshore drilling.

On the West Coast, some 100,000 people came to San Francisco's Crissy Stadium, despite drizzly skies, to hear singer Joan Baez and others sing about the environment. Many visited 40 booths on subjects ranging from low-flow showerheads to banning the wearing of fur and leather.

In Santa Monica, Calif., 35,000 heard actors and local politicians promote recyling and 'the Big Green,' a sweeping environmental initiative expected to be on the statewide ballot in Novemeber. Two stars of the 'Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles' movie put in an appearance.

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In Atlanta, the Rev. Jesse Jackson told an Earth Day crowd American industry had exploited the South in creating jobs that poison the environment. He said half the toxic waste dumps in the nation are in the South, a circumstance he said attracted polluting industries.

Around the world, the Soviet news agency Tass reported that residents of the embattled Lithuanian capital of Vilnius put aside their struggle for independence to plant trees, hold a parade of bicycles and fly kites in the city's ancient Vingys Park.

In Japan, 10 prominent singers and bands held 'A Green World' concert on Yumenoshima Island in Tokyo Bay, which was reclaimed from a trash dump. The admission fee was 10 aluminum cans, which were to be pressed into a huge aluminum block in front of the audience and then recycled.

In Peru, newspapers announced the formation of a new environmental group -- the Pachamama Society -- dedicated to 'create consciousness of the Peruvian people on the unavoidable need to conserve our valuable natural resources.'

In the new African country of Namibia, which became independent from South Africa March 21, some 700 people marched through the capital of Windhoek and held a ceremony where Minister of Wildlife, Conservation and Tourism Niko Bessinger called on youth to be environmental watchdogs.

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In Britain, hikers clambered up Britain's highest mountain, Ben Nevis in Scotland, to clear litter from the 4,406-foot-high peak.

A joint U.S.-Russian-Chinese mountaineering team had hoped to reach the top of Mount Everest -- the world's tallest peak -- on Earth Day, but bad weather delayed their ascent and they were not expected to reach their goal until early May. But the climbers have picked up 2 tons of trash left by past expeditions; support teams are transporting it back down the mountain.

While most events were joyful, police in Paris clashed with environmental activists who staged a ceremony at the Arc de Triomphe in memory of victims of industrial and nuclear accidents.

Police broke up the rally held by about 30 demonstrators who tried to place photographs of the Bhopal and Chernobyl disasters on the monument to the unknown soldier.

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