A large turnout Sunday at a weekly Lawrence peace vigil indicates that local residents are increasingly concerned about the possibility of war in the Persian Gulf, organizers of the vigil said today.
The vigil, sponsored by the Lawrence Coalition for Peace and Justice, takes place at noon Sundays in front of the Douglas County Courthouse, 11th and Massachusetts.
Allan Hanson, coalition member and professor of anthropology at Kansas University, said about 185 people came to the vigil Sunday, compared with about 120 people the week before. When the first vigil was held four Sundays ago, about 25 people participated.
Despite Iraq's decision last week to release all foreign hostages, local residents still are concerned about a possible military conflict, Hanson said.
"I don't get any sense of `Let's relax now because peace is in the offing.' People want to see this thing to an end and not get too complacent," Hanson said. "The rhetoric from Bush remains very bellicose."
DAVID BROWN, another member of the coalition, said many of the vigil participants he talked with were upset with President Bush's response to the hostage release, which already is under way.
"President Bush's comments seem to indicate that the hostages being freed clears the way for American troops to move in," Brown said. "The release of the hostages should be seen as a positive gesture by Saddam Hussein. But President Bush, for whatever reason, seems intent on armed conflict."
Hanson said he thinks public response to U.S. involvement in the gulf has made the Bush administration more willing to seek a peaceful solution.
"I think the message that has been sent to the administration is just unmistakable: America does not want to go to war," he said. "Our vigil is just a drop in an ocean of public demonstrations and protests."
Hanson said a special candlelight vigil is scheduled for 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. on New Year's Eve in front of the courthouse.
MEANWHILE in Wichita, about a dozen members of peace groups protested the U.S. presence in the Persian Gulf this weekend outside an oil refinery.
Protesters gathered across the street Saturday from a Derby oil refinery, holding signs reading "27 Lives Per Gallon of Crude" and waving U.S. flags.
"Until we come up with a decent energy policy in this country, we'll all be held hostage to oil," said Michael Sprong, of the Newton Area Peace Center.
The Derby refinery was not the target of the demonstration, said Mary Harren, a member of Kansans for Peace and Justice. "It just reminds people of the real reason we're in the gulf," she said.
"There's a small group here today, but there's a growing contingent of people all over the country who want the administration to know we aren't willing to kill over $20-a-barrel oil," she said.