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Thousands in Europe vent anger at Israel after deadly raid

Thousands protested across Europe on Saturday against the killing of nine activists during a botched raid on an aid fleet, as Israel peacefully boarded another ship attempting to defy its blockade of Gaza.

world Updated: Jun 06, 2010 00:37 IST

Thousands protested across Europe on Saturday against the killing of nine activists during a botched raid on an aid fleet, as Israel peacefully boarded another ship attempting to defy its blockade of Gaza.

Angry protestors chanting anti-Israeli slogans and waving Palestinian and Turkish flags took to the streets of Istanbul, London, Dublin and Paris as well as a string of other French cities, following Monday's deadly assault.

Demonstrators branded Israel a "murderer", demanded that it lift its blockade and vowed that the deaths of the nine activists would not be in vain.

In Turkey a crowd of between 5,000 and 10,000 gathered at the Caglayan square on the European side of the city straddling the Bosphorus Strait.

"Murderer Israel!," chanted the demonstrators, at times breaking into shouts of "Allahu Akbar!" or "God is great" in English.

"The longer we keep silent, the bigger the massacre grows," read a banner in French while the demonstrators waved Palestinian flags and shouted anti-Israeli slogans.

Many of them wore headbands that read "Murderers Israel, keep your hands off the boats!" in Hebrew and English. The dead activists were all Turkish including one who also had US nationality.

In Dublin, organisers of the Irish march said up to several thousand people had taken part, but police put the figure in the hundreds.

"I think people are incredibly angry that nine peace activists were murdered in an attempt to intimidate people coming to Gaza," said Richard Boyd Barrett, chairman of the Irish Anti-War Movement who was on the march.

In France, over 15,000 people, including 5,000 in Paris, vented their anger at Israel's handling of the aid flotilla, police said.

In Paris, protestors, some waving Turkish and Palestinian flags, marched through the centre of the city. The country has the largest Muslim population in western Europe with between five and six million Muslims.

"What we lived through was very difficult... but it is nothing compared to what the Palestinians are living through 365 days a year. These are a people that are being kept on a drip and its is not acceptable," said Youcef Benberdal who was with the aid convoy.

In Nice, around 2,000 people, mostly dressed in white, gathered to pay tribute to the nine victims.

"Gaza, France is with you," said one of the speakers.

Around 2,000 people also gathered in Marseille, while in Lyon organisers said 30,000 people turned out although police put the figure at 6,000.

Hundreds more rallied in other cities including Montpellier, Strasbourg and Bordeaux.

In London several thousand people gathered outside Downing Street, waving flags and placards and chanting loudly.

The protestors urged the British government to step up pressure on Israel and were later due to head to the Israeli embassy in a march that will wind through central London.

Lindsey German of organisers Stop The War Coalition told the crowd the event was to show victims "that their death has not been in vain -- what it has done is bring to the world's attention the terrible crime of the blockade of Gaza."

Demonstrators outside the prime minister's residence waved Palestinian flags and waved placards saying: "Gaza End The Siege" and "For Freedom We Sail," while others chanted: "Stop Israeli piracy."

Many of those attending were from London's large Turkish community such as 38-year-old Ali Seylan who said his brother had been on board the flotilla.

"Israel made a big mistake, Israel's government managed to get all Turkish people (to be) the enemy of Israel," he said.

On Saturday, Israeli forces peacefully boarded another ship, the Rachel Corrie, as it headed for Gaza in defiance of Israel's blockade.

Since Monday there have been daily demonstrations across Turkey against Israel and in favour of Hamas, the Palestinian Islamist movement which controls Gaza.

First Published: Jun 06, 2010 00:35 IST