September 11 walk stirs ire of anti-Iraq war protestors


WASHINGTON (AFP) - The Pentagon is dismissing claims that a "Freedom Walk" marking the fourth anniversary of the September 11 attacks and honoring US troops is merely a sinister stunt to build support for the Iraq war.

Walkers will leave the Pentagon parking lot this September 11 to trek two miles (3.2 kilometres) to Washington's National Mall, in an event culminating with a concert by Country Music star Clint Black.

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said Tuesday the walk would wind its way past some of Washington's most famous monuments "reminding participants of the sacrifices of this generation and of each previous generation that have so successfully defended our freedoms."

But critics say the Pentagon-sponsored "America Supports You Freedom Walk" is the latest bid by the Bush administration to connect the invasion of Iraq with September 11, despite the lack of evidence an Iraqi role in the 2001 attacks.

"The fact that they are having the walk on September 11 is clearly an attempt to link the two," said Nancy Mitchell, media coordinator of anti-war group ANSWER (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism).

"The Department of Defense is always claiming that to support the troops we have to support the mission. We think that the best way to support the troops to bring them home safely now."

A senior Defense Department official was not immediately available to comment on criticisms of the walk on Friday.

But deputy assistant secretary of defense for internal communications Allison Barber said on local WTOP radio on Thursday there was no political agenda behind the event.

"This is not a statement about the war in Iraq or about any policy decisions."

"This is a statement about, 'We remember we came under attack, and we're grateful for our men and women in the military who volunteer to serve our country.'"

ANSWER meanwhile is laying plans for what it says will be the biggest anti-war demonstration yet, hoping to draw tens of thousands of protestors to Washington on September 24.

Some critics of the walk, notably on online political weblogs or "blogs," have said the requirement for marchers to sign up online providing a name and contact information provides the walk with an Orwellian touch.

But Pentagon officials say the requirment is necessary to allow them to estimate crowd numbers.

There has also been criticism of the fact that some media companies have agreed to act as sponsors for the event.

"Our interest in the event is consistent with our past support of causes related to September 11 and the veterans of wars past and present," the Washington Post quoted a spokesman for the paper as saying Friday.