PORTLAND — About 50 people gathered in Monument Square on Monday evening to protest the proposed U.S. military intervention in Syria.

The candlelight vigil was part of a nationwide effort to convince Congress to oppose the use of force in response to reports that the Syrian government used chemical weapons to kill its own citizens.

President Obama has said he won’t attack Syria without authorization from Congress.

Protesters held signs that read, “A U.S. attack will escalate the carnage” and “No U.S. vigilante attack on Syria.”

“It’s another Iraq, but only worse. We are making a big mistake,” said George Sharpe, 58, of Portland, who wore a coonskin cap to the protest. “This has got World War III written all over it.”

The vigil was organized by Eric Hooglund of Portland, a retired college professor who taught Middle Eastern politics and American foreign policy courses at Bowdoin and Bates colleges.

Hooglund said he has visited Syria several times and has lectured at the University of Damascus.

He said the evidence presented by the Obama administration to prove that the Syrian government murdered its own people is underwhelming.

Even if the Syrian government used chemical weapons, Hooglund said, he would not support military intervention.

“It only will escalate the violence in a brutal civil war that desperately needs diplomatic and humanitarian efforts to protect all the victims,” he said.

Jeff McNelly, 67, of Westbrook, a Vietnam War veteran, said he attended the vigil because he is concerned that the U.S. will send ground troops to Syria.

“I don’t believe in war,” McNelly said. “We are not going to gain anything by killing more people. No matter where you shoot those missiles, they are going to kill people.”

Jacqui Deveneau of Old Orchard Beach, a member of Peace Action Maine, said, “To go in there and kill more people there is something wrong with that. We should not be bombing any more countries. We have to take care of our own people who don’t have jobs or health care.”

Stephen B. King of Portland wore what looked like a gas mask and held a sign warning that U.S. military intervention could ignite another world war.

“You don’t know what could happen. Russia is telling us not to take action and Syria is threatening an attack,” he said. “If there is an intervention, it should be from the international community.”

Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at:

dhoey@pressherald.com