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23 arrested outside White House as they pray, protest NATO bombing


Park Police arrested 23 people, including Auxiliary Bishop Thomas Gumbleton of Detroit, as they knelt in prayer outside the White House June 3 to protest the NATO war against Yugoslavia.

It was the largest incident of civil disobedience since the NATO campaign began March 24.

The following Saturday, June 5, about 5,000 people attended an antiwar rally in Washington. The protesters marched from the Vietnam War Memorial to the Pentagon.

Some 130 people participated in the June 3 march in Lafayette Park, which faces the White House. The demonstrators called President Clinton a “dictator” and accused him of deliberately targeting civilians in Serbia. The protest was organized by the National Coalition for Peace in Yugoslavia, a recently formed gathering of religious and peace groups opposed to the NATO bombings and the Serb-led ethnic cleansing of Kosovo.

Following a news conference, participants said they hoped to deliver a letter condemning the air strikes to Clinton. After a White House guard refused admittance and suggested the protesters submit their letter to the White House Press Office, religious leaders from the coalition knelt to pray and sing hymns. Police vans arrived, and about 15 minutes later authorities began arresting and handcuffing the protesters.

Organizers said a separate letter, intended for Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic, would be delivered by way of that country’s U.N. delegation in New York. In it, the coalition condemns both the air strikes and the cleansing of ethnic Albanians and calls for an immediate halt to “further brutalities against Albanian Kosovars.”

Former Attorney General Ramsey Clark spoke at the June 5 rally, telling the protesters, “We’ve got to stop the fanning of flames of war by the U.S. We’ve got to abolish NATO.”

Sara Flounders, a coordinator of the event, called the NATO forces an “army of occupation” in Yugoslavia.

Protesters carried signs calling Clinton a war criminal. Many marchers wore T-shirts printed with a bulls-eye, a symbol Serbs in Belgrade have worn during the 10 weeks of bombing. Among sponsors and endorsers of the march to the Pentagon were the Fellowship of Reconciliation, the International Action Center and the Center for Peace in the Balkans.

Religion News Service contributed to this report.

National Catholic Reporter, June 18, 1999