The Arctic Inuit who are losing their ice caps and activists demanding urgent action on global warming were among thousands taking to the streets in cities around the world Saturday to raise awareness of climate change.
The demonstrations coincided with the 10-day U.N. Climate Change Conference under way in Montreal to review and update the Kyoto Protocol, the global accord that binds industrialized nations to lower greenhouse gas emissions.
A march in downtown Montreal was the largest of the demonstrations expected in 32 countries, including Japan, Germany, France, Bangladesh, Brazil, Australia and South Africa.
In London, protesters passed Downing Street, home of Prime Minister Tony Blair, where they handed in a letter demanding that the government reaffirm its commitment to Kyoto with legally binding targets on emissions reductions.
In Washington, drivers of hybrid cars planned to rally around the White House. In New Orleans, residents intend to hold a "Save New Orleans, Stop Global Warming" party in the French Quarter. Other U.S. events were being held from Boston to Los Angeles.
In Montreal, it was a family friendly atmosphere with hot air balloons, theatrical and music acts as protesters hit the streets in numbers organizers hoped would top 15,000. Police estimated the crowd size at 7,000.
Canada's Environment Minister Stephane Dion, who is presiding over the conference, took part in the march and said final negotiations next week involving some 120 environment ministers and other government leaders would be crucial. "We need to improve Kyoto," Dion said.
Five environmental groups, including Greenpeace and the Climate Crisis Coalition, delivered a petition signed by 600,000 Americans to the U.S. Consulate in Montreal urging the Bush administration and the U.S. Congress to help slow global warming.
About 100 protesters gathered outside in freezing temperatures to listen to speeches. "We are here representing the people of the United States who want action to be taken," said Ted Glick of the Climate Crises Coalition, who accused the U.S. delegation of trying to obstruct progress at the conference.
U.S. President George W. Bush has been widely criticized for pulling out of the Kyoto Treaty, instead calling for an 18 percent reduction in the U.S. growth rate of greenhouse gases by 2012 and committing US$5 billion (Ђ4.27 billion) a year to global warming science and technology. The United States which spews out nearly 25 percent of the world's carbon emissions was the target of many demonstrators.
"If he (Bush) thinks (Hurricane) Katrina was bad, there are a lot worse hurricanes on their way if he doesn't change his policy," Britain's former Environment Minister Michael Meacher said outside the U.S. embassy in London.
Organizers said 10,000 people participated in the march from Lincoln's Inn in central London to the U.S. Embassy. Police said about 4,300 took part. Chanting and blowing whistles, the marchers denounced Blair and Bush for their perceived environmental failings. Some held banners depicting Bush as "Wanted for crimes against the planet" and advising "Ditch Blair, not Kyoto."
Health experts at the U.N. conference said Friday that global warming is responsible for as many as 150,000 deaths annually around the world.
Canadian Inuit of the isolated Arctic north have traveled to Montreal to join the protest. Indian leader Jose Kusugak told The Associated Press that he brought along hunters, trappers and elders to reassure them that people from the south were not indifferent to their plight. "It was important to show there are a lot of people in the world who care," he said, reported AP. P.T.