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'No Drone War': Thousands Converge in Protest Outside Ramstein

Peace activists form a human chain on the street leading towards the U.S. air base during the 'Stopp-Ramstein' campaign in Ramstein, Germany on June 11. (Oliver Dietze/dpa via AP)
Peace activists form a human chain on the street leading towards the U.S. air base during the 'Stopp-Ramstein' campaign in Ramstein, Germany on June 11. (Oliver Dietze/dpa via AP)

RAMSTEIN, Germany -- Draped in rainbow peace flags and huddling under umbrellas, thousands of protesters converged in the rain June 11 outside Ramstein Air Base to demand the facility end its alleged support of U.S. drone operations.

The rally, organized by the Berlin-based nongovernmental alliance "Stopp Ramstein - No Drone War," drew Germans from communities hundreds of miles away and was backed by dozens of peace organizations from the United States and abroad.

Some demonstrators beat drums, some walked barefoot, some rode bikes hoisting anti-war posters. There were songs, guitar music and speeches.

Organizers anticipated that about 5,000 people would show up. But German police estimated the crowd at about 2,000, attributing the smaller turnout to the rain.

Whatever the final tally, former CIA analyst Ray McGovern, one of the rally's featured speakers, was impressed by the turnout.

"I'm very, very enthusiastic that all these people were willing to come out on a day like this to show how seriously they look at matters of war and peace," he said, moments before taking the stage, rigged on the back of a small truck parked by the traffic circle outside the west gate.

Earlier, protesters lined around the traffic circle and linked hands in what organizers called a "human chain" -- one of the culminating events of the rally. They had walked to the base from three meeting points in Kaiserslautern, Landstuhl and Ramstein-Miesenbach.

The activists were allowed to block traffic leaving and entering Ramstein from the traffic circle for 10 minutes as dozens of policemen looked on. Others crowded on the grassy knoll inside the traffic circle chanting, "Stop the air base! Stop Ramstein!"

Police said there were no incidents and the protest was peaceful. But some motorists were irritated by the inconvenience and the activists' political message.

"I don't think they have a clue what's going on, quite honestly," said Jennifer Klyne, 40, while waiting in traffic.

"If they remove all the Americans out of Ramstein and Germany, the economy's going to die and the Russians are going to be in here taking over," said Klyne, a German who's married to an American and lives in Darmstadt.

Talia von Bezold was blunt when asked why she drove from Wuerzburg to attend the protest.

"Take a wild guess: I'm against the drone war," she said. "So many innocent people are killed by drones. This is really not acceptable to me, not at all."

Ramstein's alleged role in the U.S. drone war has drawn sharp criticism from German peace groups. It first came to public attention in 2013, when former U.S. drone sensor operator Brandon Bryant alleged that the technology used at Ramstein transfers the data between drone pilots in the United States to their remotely operated aircraft on missions in the Middle East, Afghanistan and Africa.

Although the demonstration presented a strong anti-drone message, activists also used the protest as a platform to deliver other anti-war messages.

Without Ramstein, the political situation in Europe would be "much better" said Albert Weber, 72. He called out the U.S. military for participating in the recent military drills in Poland. "They are going to upset Putin. With him, you never know what he's going to do," he said.

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