A conference of anti-globalization activists from across Europe blossomed on Saturday into a fervent but peaceful march to protest war against Iraq, with hundreds of thousands of demonstrators flooding the streets of Florence, Italy, with banners, colorful flags and music.
Local authorities, fearing a return to violence after the G8 summit protests last year in Genoa, called in thousands of policemen as a precaution. But the day passed without fighting or vandalism, according to Italian news agency ANSA, and those few shops that decided to open their doors did a brisk business.
The march, a planned event that drew an even larger throng than expected, was the climax of the first European Social Forum conference. Estimates ranged from 300,000 to 500,000 people, with demonstrators and signs such as "Assassins, stop this war" mingling with jugglers and rollerskaters.
The activists' ranks were likely swelled by the news Friday that the United Nations Security Council passed unanimously a U.S.-British sponsored resolution giving Iraq a "final opportunity" to disarm, authorizing the return of weapons inspectors and warning of "serious consequences" if Baghdad fails to cooperate.
Iraq has seven days to accept the terms of the resolution and 30 days to declare all aspects of programs to develop weapons of mass destruction. Any false statements or omissions would be considered in violation of the resolution, which could lead to the council deciding to authorize military force.
Iraq on Saturday called the new U.N. Security Council resolution on Iraq's disarmament "bad and unjust," but said the country's leadership would respond more formally in coming days after studying the resolution.
In France, one of the holders of a key vetoes on Security Council, reaction to the two-step language of the resolution was largely positive Saturday. France's ambassador to the United Nations had repeatedly held out against a resolution that would allow or even suggest the United States could act alone if Iraq did not comply to weapons inspections.
"Everybody has saved face," said the daily Paris newspaper Le Figaro. "Any new Iraqi violation will be examined by the United Nations before any decision regarding its consequences."
Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, another advocate of the two-step approach, told reporters Saturday in Moscow the resolution "diverts the real threat of war and paves way for a political resolve of the situation," according to RIA Novosti news agency.
Friday's passage of the resolution is only the "first step, though" toward resolving the Iraqi crisis, added Ivanov. "Ahead lies big and complex work, the success of
which will depend on Iraq's readiness to cooperate with the United Nations."
Russia has insisted that unilateral military intervention against Iraq, its longtime ally and trade partner in the Arab world, would plunge the whole Middle Eastern region into instability.
China -- who holds a permanent seat on the Security Council along with the United States, Britain, France and Russia -- commented Saturday that its 'yea' vote to the resolution did not mean a change in the government's position. Foreign Ministry spokesman Kong Quan said China was still committed to a peaceful, not military, solution to eliminating any weapons of mass destruction that Iraq may have.
"We would like to stress that the Security Council shoulder the responsibility of safeguarding international peace and security as endorsed by the U.N. Charters," the Chinese People's Daily reported Kong as saying.
In contrast, The Times of London published an editorial Saturday under the banner line, "The U.N., at last, has voted to get tough with Iraq."
"What is remarkable is how little Washington has sacrificed," The Times said. "The only substantial point that Britain and America have conceded to France and Russia is that there must be a further meeting of the Security Council if (chief weapons inspector) Mr. Blix reports any Iraqi obstruction. But Washington has won the point that it does not need a new resolution before taking action -- deeming the ambiguous wording of 'serious consequences' sufficient mandate for war."
Iran on Saturday urged its neighbor Iraq to fully cooperate with U.N. weapons inspectors in order to remove what it called "any ground for American pretext and adventurism in the region," the official Islamic Republic News Agency reported.
Iran's Foreign Ministry spokesman, Hamid Reza Asefi, however, reiterated his country's opposition to any unilateral military action against Baghdad, saying that the Security Council "must be the focal point for any decision and action on Iraq."
Iran fought a 1980-1988 war with Iraq and the two sides still view each other with suspicion. The eight-year war claimed one million lives on both sides, including Iranian soldiers killed by Iraqi chemical attacks.
(With reporting from Bojan Soc in Moscow and Modher Amin in Tehran.)