Peace activists from around the United States gathered in St. Louis on Sunday, part of a three-day meeting to develop plans to pressure the Bush administration to exit Iraq.

The weekend gathering, which brought together representatives from more than 35 states and Canada, comes as the death toll of American soldiers there nears 1,500 and March 19 marks the two-year anniversary of the U.S.-led invasion.

The meeting was coordinated by United for Peace and Justice, an umbrella coalition of some 1,000 anti-war groups ranging from large organizations like Women for Peace and Black Voices for Peace, to local campaigns such as the St. Louis Instead of War Coalition.

“The way we support our troops is by calling for an immediate end to the war and to bring them home now,” said Charley Richardson, a member of Military Families Speak Out.

The group represents some 2,000 U.S. military families, said Richardson, whose son, a Marine, was deployed to Iraq early in the war but has returned to the United States.

A spokesman for United for Peace and Justice said the estimated 450 attendees hoped to develop clear plans on how to push the Bush administration to end the war.

“This is the first major gathering of peace organizations since (President George W.) Bush’s re-election,” said the spokesman, Bill Dobbs. “Today and tomorrow they’re going to be many proposals considered … for campaigns, actions, protests, demonstrations.”

New York-based United for Peace and Justice was formed in October 2002 before the war and has since evolved into the largest U.S. anti-war coalition. It staged several major protests, including ones at the Republican and Democratic national conventions last summer, Dobbs said.

“We’re building a community to build the world we want, to challenge this administration,” said Lisa Fithian, a member of Root Activist Network of Trainers, which helps other groups develop and organize.

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