Tag Archives: Syria

Redlines solidarity protests in London

Two different activist groups staged protests in London today in solidarity with the so-called Redlines protests taking place in Paris at the end of the COP21 climate talks.

First were a group of around 25, calling themselves ‘Red Lines London’, who carried 10 giant inflatable cubes, similar to those used in Paris, to various sites across London.

They began with a short roadblock outside the Houses of Parliament, highlighting our Government’s increasing subsidies to fossil fuel companies while cutting support for renewable energy schemes and alternative energy research.

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Next, they crossed Westminster Bridge to pose outside the Shell HQ building.

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After a brief pause to top up the air pressure , the next target was the Turbine Hall of the Tate Modern gallery, which receives sponsorship money in a green-washing exercise from BP.

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Moving further east, the group then blockaded the entrance to News International’s London HQ near London Bridge. Rupert Murdoch’s newspapers have been very supportive of air attacks on Syria, which is no surprise as he has oil interests along with Jacob Rothschild in the Syrian Golan Heights.

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Crossing the River Thames they carried their red lines through the City of London financial centre (where they attracted inquiries from police).

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Their fifth and final destination was the office of PR firm Hill & Knowlton, which works for fracking lobbyists to promote the idea that extreme energy extraction techniques are safe and sustainable, despite scientists’ analysis that further carbon exploitation will cause runaway temperature warming.

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Meanwhile, back at Westminster,  Campaign Against Climate Change were preparing their own Redlines solidarity action starting with some speeches outside Parliament, including from Sian Berry, the Green Party candidate for London Mayor.

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The action comprised unfurling a 300m red line across Westminster Bridge.

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Despite strong winds, they managed to hang on and span the whole bridge behind Parliament.

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Both UK actions were in solidarity with the thousands gathered in Paris in defiance of emergency powers to send out a message to COP21 delegates that there are red lines that must not be crossed.

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Syria Vote: die-in outside Parliament

As MPs debated whether to drop bombs on Syria, people gathered again in Parliament Square to protest against military action. The Stop the War Coalition had a small stage and PA and a crowd began to form on the grass as speeches got underway.

Meanwhile, an activist from Peace Strike ran onto the road outside Parliament and put herself under a large truck. This caused a roadblock for some time until she was eventually coaxed out by police and arrested.

Apart from this brief interruption, it was clear that StWC had some sort of arrangement with the Met, as senior police were overheard asking the organisers to stall for as long as possible before taking over the road.

So the speeches rumbled on for over an hour, with mostly the usual StWC glitterati, among them George Galloway who, whatever you think of him, is a decent orator, enthralling the crowd.

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Once the rush-hour traffic was finished, the die-in was announced, and in a carefully staged action of mock civil disobedience, around a thousand people took to the road and started their die-in.

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Police told the few motorists, mainly taxi drivers, caught in the action, that they should switch off their engines as they may be there some time.

However, after about quarter of an hour, officers moved in, and with a mixture of encouragement and a little brute force (without arrest), channels were cleared to allow the trapped vehicles to leave.

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Pre-organised diversions were in place to close off most of the square, but police also moved in to clear a single carriageway on the Abbey side to allow Millbank traffic to pass through towards Victoria and and St James.

The Stop the War Coalition then packed up their stage and PA and as far as I could tell, the organisers all left, leaving the crowd to carry on shouting and chanting outside parliament for the next couple of hours.

A little after 9pm, Natalie Bennett (Green leader) came out of Parliament to address the protest. Unfortunately, as StWC had gone home, she had to use a megaphone, but her short speech of encouragement was warmly welcomed, as she described how the demonstration could be clearly heard in the House.

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The noise built up and reached a massive peak as Big Ben tolled out the 10pm deadline for debate. There was some confusion over the news around the amendment vote blocking military action, and for a moment cheers rang out as some people thought it was a good result, but that soon changed to a resumption of anti-war chants until the 10.30 final vote.

As the news came through 397 MPs had voted FOR military action and 223 against, the mood turned from immediate rage, to sadness, and then stunned silence. In fact, an eerie one minute’s silence was called, respected by all – the only noise in the square coming from police radios for a short poignant moment.

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After that, chants resumed louder than ever – “Tories out, refugees in” and “You were wrong then, you are wrong now”. Gradually people began to stand and leave, but a small group made their way down to the media village at St.Stephen’s and chanted loudly as MPs were interviewed. This certainly came over loud and clear on Sky TV, though many of the other broadcasters were already packing up their gear.

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I was struck by two advertisements I saw at Westminster station for arms companies – their shares guaranteed to rise quickly as a result of the vote.

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Reaching home I heard that two bombers had already left an airbase in Cyprus bound for Syria with their promise of collateral damage and fuel for terror, less than an hour after the parliamentary result was in.

 

1st December #DontBombSyria rally

Arriving in Parliament Square just after 6pm this evening, the first banners I saw were those of Peace Strike, at the gates of Westminster.

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Across the rush-hour filled road, the Stop the War Coalition had set up a small stage, and a crowd of up to two thousand had already arrived.

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Among the speakers were Caroline Lucas and George Galloway.

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As more protesters arrived, they spilled out onto the road, but police kept a single lane open to traffic heading west.

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Just after 7pm, a short march was announced, and set off towards St James.

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The first stop was the nearby Conservative Party HQ where Andrew Murray delivered a letter to the Conservative Chairman.

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The march continued loudly and briskly.

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A second letter was delivered at the Labour HQ.

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As the marchers headed back along Victoria Street towards Parliament Square, I could see there were still marchers way behind at St. James’ station. Clearly numbers had built up massively, and I’d estimate there were more than 5000 involved.

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Back in the square, people started to leave, but a group of around a thousand continued chanting, and some people climbed statues and trees in the square while police numbers built up to block any attempt to block the roads, although later there was a brief sit-in, some skirmishes as police intervened, and one man was arrested.

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Among the crowd was a tearful Syrian man who was showing people pictures of his family home bombed to ruin – the real face of war.

With the parliamentary debate taking place tomorrow and a vote by 10pm, the Stop the War Coalition has called a further protest including a die-in from 6pm tomorrow evening. I am sure other groups will join this call, and Peace Strike will be continuing their vigil during the day.

 

Don’t Attack Syria – London protest pics

For this protest, called by the Stop the War Coalition with only a couple of days’ notice, police had cordoned off the southbound carriageway of Whitehall, and StWC had set up a small stage in front of Downing Street. Similar gatherings were taking place, we were told, in 30 towns and cities across the UK.

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The protest, called for midday, continued to grow over the next couple of hours as a variety of speakers took the stage, and I’d estimate at least 2,000 attended in all.

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After John Rees spoke for the coalition, the first big celeb speaker, dressed in a very pricey-looking grey winter coat, was Brian Eno, who spoke from the heart about the illogicality of a military “solution”.

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After a typically rousing effort from Owen Jones, we heard from Green deputy, Dr. Shahrar Ali, and then Sabby Dahlu from ‘Stand Up Against Racism’, who spoke passionately about the right-wing media demonisation of Muslims, and the resulting rise in racist attacks.

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A heartfelt and honest speech from the massively talented actor Mark Rylance, was followed by well-honed oration from George Galloway.

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Next on was Tariq Ali, who used to write regularly in the Guardian, but, in talking about the media frenzy over Corbyn, Paris, and a Syria attack, admitted he can no longer bear to read it. His speech reminded us of the long-standing plan, exposed many years ago by ex-NATO supreme commander, General Wesley Clark, to “take out” a series of countries in the Middle East, including Syria. This story was backed up recently by the revelation from French Foreign Affairs minister, Roland Dumas, that UK officials confessed to “preparing something”, an organised invasion of rebels into Syria, more than two years ago.

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By 1.30, with the south carriageway pen full to overflowing, police had given up trying to persuade protesters outside Downing Street to move over the road, and with the pavement full there too, some folk decided to invade the north carriageway and completely block the road.

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Sergeant Dearden is often seen at protests carrying out surveillance in his National Domestic Extremist Unit role, but on this occasion he was in charge of police operations and wearing Inspector epaulettes. After sending in some Police Liaison Officers to gather intelligence and try persuasion, he then brought in some TSG officers to push people off the road and allow some traffic through.

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However, demonstrators were persistent, and staged a sit-down, at which point, police closed off the carriageway at Parliament Square, where they listened to the final speaker, Dianne Abbott, who had been delayed travelling, as she brought greetings of solidarity from the Labour leadership.

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As the protest pen cleared, and traffic began to pass south, a little after 2.30, people began to drift away from the sit-down, and cleared the road by about 2.45.

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There is another protest planned at Parliament for 6pm on Tuesday IF the government announces a vote to take place on Wednesday. Check stopwar.org.uk for new information on this.

UPDATE – announcement HAS been made, so Wednesday debate, and emergency protest at Parliament 6pm Tuesday 1st August

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Global Day for Kobane – pics and report from London 1st November

Several thousand London Kurds and their supporters gathered in Trafalgar Square as part of a worldwide protest against what is happening to Kobane, an amazing autonomous Kurdish community in Northern Syria, which is under siege and attack by Islamist fighters.

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Kobane has become a rallying issue for many progressive groups, including anarchists, because of their model and refreshing system of democracy and decision-making, which strives for equality and defends women’s rights.

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While Islamic State fighters commit massacres and rapes, the West, and particularly Turkey are giving little or no support to the besieged Kurdish people, who rely on their own ‘People’s Protection Units’, the YPG, and the women fighters of the YPJ, to keep the attack at bay. These soldiers are widely recognised in the region as a democratic people’s army, and they hold internal elections to appoint their leaders.

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The three-hour rally attracted a wide range of support from dozens of speakers, and kicked off with performer/activist Mark Thomas who was unequivocal in his support of the Kurds and the need for action against ISIS.

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He also called for an immediate lift on the ban on the Kurdistan Worker’s Party, (the PKK) who have been conveniently proscribed as a terrorist organisation by the West (including NATO), but whose Turkish-jailed leader has given up the original Marxist-Leninist armed struggle and has helped establish the almost utopian Democratic Confederalist system in place in Syrian Kurdistan while striving for a political solution.

Mark’s calls were echoed by human rights lawyer, Margaret Owen.

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She also described Rojava (Syrian Kurdistan) as a utopia of equality, providing support and sanctuary for internally displaced people including Christians, Armenians, Turkmen, Arabs, and others, and she spoke of the extraordinary tenacity and bravery of the women fighters of the YPJ.

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Green MEP, Jean Lambert announced she would be visiting Istanbul next week and pushing hard for the PKK ban to be lifted. She also mentioned Qatar’s role in supporting ISIS and buying black market oil from them, something that Turkey is also accused of.

The huge crowd listened to speaker after speaker throughout the sunny afternoon.  Radha d’Souza from the Indian Association of Lawyers condemned Turkey’s aspirations to a new Ottoman empire, and spoke of solidarity from India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh.

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Roman Catholic Priest Father Joe Ryan, co-ordinator of the Westminster Justice and Peace Commission described Abdullah Ocalan, leader of the PKK, as the Nelson Mandela of the Kurdish people, and called for his release (for a decade from 1999, he was the sole prisoner on an island prison in Marmaris, echoing Mandela’s plight).

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Human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell drew ‘just war’ comparisons with the struggle against Spanish fascism, and the war against Nazism. He called for the International Criminal Court to issue arrest warrants against ISIS leaders, and against Assad, and for Turkey to be suspended from NATO for its support of ISIS despite the massacre of Kurdish people. He also highlighted the immediate need for air dropped supplies of food, medicine and arms to the people of Kobane.

Tamil activist, Karthick, alluded to the French Revolution and other workers’ revolutions, and said that Kobane would go down in history as one of the most important revolutions in the 21st Century.

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He said that the YPG and YPJ gave hope that peace, justice, and women’s rights were all possible, and he condemned Turkey for killing protesters and supporting ISIS.

A speaker from the Spanish Basque Society offered solidarity, as did Islington Labour leader, Richard Watts. Labour activist Norah Mulready spoke about the YPJ and said that an attack on one woman was an attack on all.

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Speaker after speaker condemned Turkey and ISIS and honoured the Kurdish struggle and the democratic society of Rojava. Among them were Steve Hedley from the RMT, who said the PKK were a national liberation army, Trevor Rain (Fight Racism, Fight Imperialism) who said the Kurds and the Palestinians were the two great losers in the Middle Eastern imperialist carve-up, with the UK having a special responsibility, and political writer Sukant Chandan, who described ISIS as NATO death squads, or hitmen for international capital.

The crowd then listened to a live telephone call from Kobane, by Asya Abdullah, a co-chair of the People’s Democratic Union Party.

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She thanked the rally for being part of a historic global day of resistance, and categorised ISIS as the enemies of women, humanity and culture. She described the horrors of 48 days of resistance in Kobane with the deaths of hundreds and thousands of men and women, but called it a global resistance, saluting the international grass roots solidarity.

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With police pressuring organisers to meet a 5pm deadline to finish the rally, there were short messages of support from a whole swathe more speakers, and there was a powerful air of global solidarity as we heard of similar huge rallies around the world, in Rome, Bremen, Paris, Madrid, Buenos Aires, Ankara, Istanbul, Bilbao, Orlando, Bombay, Vancouver, Stockholm, Dusseldorf, Honduras, Melbourne, Los Angeles, Rio, Washington, Liverpool, Houston, and dozens more cities.

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Mark Thomas is organising a Kurdish Red Crescent benefit night at the Bloomsbury on 23rdNovember with a fantastic line-up of top comedians and special guests.

Stop The War (again)

The ‘Stop The War’ Coalition called an emergency rally at short notice tonight outside Downing Street in response to the news that Parliament is recalled tomorrow to vote (or as the Guardian put it, “endorse”) air strikes on Iraq.

This time we have apparently been invited to bomb by Iraq itself, and the urgency is due to the uber-violence of ISIS/ISIL who are marauding across oil-rich areas and taking control by wiping out opposition.

The issue seems to have split some of the usual anti-war activists and the Left, who are joining in the mantra that “we must do something”, and with the only “something” on offer from our decrepit leadership being air strikes, then this is what we must do, in order to stop the bloodshed.

I have no doubt that the so-called Islamists (who seem to have left all spirituality behind), are committing terrible acts of genocide, but there are three issues I have a problem with. The first is that ISIS/L has come out of the same groups that “we” were arming, training, funding, and cheering on in their fight against the evil dictator Assad in Syria. Second, they are so successful at recruitment, because they can point to the Iraq war, and to the atrocities committed by Israel towards which the West not only turn a blind eye, but actively continue to support, with massive aid and military equipment. And third, the West often turns a blind eye to genocide (take the Congo for example), but for some reason (erm, let me think, could it be strategic and oil-related) this one demands immediate intervention.

Something must be done, yes, and if the real “we” who would like the right thing done, had control of the military might of the US, France and the UK, then just maybe, some strategic air-strikes might be a temporary and stop-gap answer of sorts. But to believe for one second that what “we” want done, in any way aligns with what the US military-industrial complex wants done, is naive and dangerous.

Their air strikes will be to protect their interests, not civilians, and even if for one second we believe they want to wipe out ISIS/L, they won’t be able to, because like Al-Qaeda, ISIS/L is an idea as much as it is a physical movement, and it is an idea that is ever more reinforced by Western military intervention. And let’s not forget, in the Orwellian dystopia being created, perpetual war IS the real aim, so it just won’t suit the US and its allies to actually wipe out their enemy, just be seen to carry on fighting them, while bringing in more and more control and surveillance on their populations at home in the name of security (see for instance today’s vote and likely passing into law next Tuesday in Australia of the National Security Legislation Amendment Bill).

So what CAN we do. Well, how about cutting off military and other funding and aid to Israel until it is brought to account for its broken UN resolutions and its war crimes. And how about cutting off aid and military equipment to Turkey until it sorts out its human rights abuses on the Kurds. And how about moving away from fossil fuel economy, and moving the massive subsidies currently given to oil over to renewables, creating jobs and clean energy and energising Western economies with sustainable growth in these areas.

If we started truly doing those things, ISIS/L would find it a lot lot harder to recruit, and we could start replacing the morally bankrupt UN and NATO with a proper International Court of Justice based on Universal Human Rights and strict adherence to the International laws of war.

It won’t save those currently facing aggression in the Middle East, but Obama’s bombing strategies can only lead to more bloodshed too.

So for me, the message, “Don’t Bomb Iraq’ is as right now as it was in 2003, and people should not be beguiled by the ‘we must do something’ rhetoric of the warmongers.

The Stop the War coalition (of which I am not a member) have called for a Central London protest on Saturday. As usual there is no suggestion of civil disobedience, so it will further sap the energies of the people who come along, and is extremely unlikely to stop any wars. History has shown over and over again, that only when the powerful are truly challenged through creative and disobedient mass movements, can change occur. So while I support their message, I can’t support their tactics. It didn’t stop the Iraq war last time, and there are even fewer of them this time. Time to step up. Yes, “we” must do something!

For what it’s worth, some pics from tonight’s protest opposite Downing Street – some good people there.

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DSEI Arms Fair ‘Critical Mass’ and Blockade – report and pics

On the first day of action against the biennial DSEI arms fair at Excel in Newham, protestors can claim some victory after blocking one of the two entrances for four hours, and causing disruption at the other gate for a couple of hours, seriously affecting the first of two get-in days before the official opening on Tuesday. There were more than a dozen arrests and some scuffles during the afternoon.Image

At 10am this morning, around 30 cyclists convened outside the Bank of England to take part in the traditional arms fair critical mass bike ride to the Excel Centre in Newham. Watched by a FIT team in a Range Rover, and followed by one police van, they set off at about 10.40,Image heading east at a leisurely pace along the Commercial Rd, led by good selection of uplifting tunes from a mobile sound system, and often taking over the whole carriageway amid light traffic on a Sunday morning.Image

Nearing Excel, they briefly lost their escort by doubling back and taking an off-road cycle route,Image but with helicopter above and police vans everywhere, this was short-lived.

After a stop for announcements and guide to the area, the mass took a ‘scenic route’ to finally arrive at the East Gate on the stroke of midday,Image just as people on foot poured onto the roundabout under a ‘closed for maintenance’ DLR flyover, unfurling their tents and banners.Image

More and more people flooded into the space, probably close to 200 in total, and under cover of one of the larger banners, three people lay down in arm locks to block one of the two entrance gates, catching police off guard.Image

Singers, dancers, and samba all added to create a carnival atmosphere, and soon the main road in was cordoned off by protestors using mock police yellow tape bearing the words “Warning: Arms Trade At Work – This Is Not OK”.Image

Around 12.30, the first of several large vehicles queued in front of this blockade, transporting two huge boats, followed later by a small tank, all aiming for a car park area which had been set aside as an “Oversize Exhibit Area”. In front of the tape were a Christian group, a die-in, and some picnickers, and at first police numbers grew, but then there was obviously some order to stand down, and after an hour or so the vehicles were helped to reverse away, and one aim of the protest, to disrupt the set-up of the arms fair was clearly achieved.

The Occupy crew set up a small kitchen and an info tent, while children played in an art area, and others played with a skipping rope among the tents.Image

It was clear that no vehicles were going to get into Excel via these East gates, although a few visitors decanted from their taxis and were led in behind police cordons on foot.

Meanwhile at 1pm, there were some speeches on a sound system, including some words of support from Natalie Bennet (Green Party), and from a delegation from Bahrain.

A small group had headed over to the West Gate, the only other entrance to the site. For around half an hour they succeeded in closing that gate, but after police threats of arrest, they were content to close half the gate, forcing traffic the wrong way round a small roundabout, and shouting and holding banners up as a continuous stream of vehicles entered and left by the only open route to the site.

Near 3pm, as one vehicle left, an elderly man blocked its path, and he was quickly grabbed and roughly escorted out of the way by police.Image Very soon after, a senior officer started to make an announcement on a megaphone.Image The crowd responded with a lot of noise, turning up the sound system, and whistling and shouting. I certainly couldn’t hear what was being said. It also triggered more action, and another large articulated lorry exiting the site had its path blocked by people holding up a banner.Image

Police moved in, snatching the banner, and other activists ran under the lorry, which started to drive on, nearly crushing them.Image As the driver was forced to stop by protestors running in front, shouting and banging for him to stop, he reacted with rude gestures. Fortunately, no-one was hurt, as police also eventually intervened to stop him, but then there were scuffles as police dragged people out from under the lorry, and also started pushing people without warning off the road.Image

One particular officer, Constable Williamson, deserves a mention, as although he was one of the larger cops, he appeared to only attack the younger smaller women amongst the crowdImage – not only this, but he had obviously lost his rag completely, AND his lapels were hidden by his raincoat – other officers wearing coats were showing their lapel numbers.Image

During the course of the scuffles, several people were arrested and led or carried off in handcuffs,

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Imageand lines of police accompanied the artic away from the area, while the samba band played on.Image

There were further games with slow bicycles, and an Abbey Road style use of zebra crossing,Image holding up a by now long line of vehicles trying to enter the Excel Centre, including diplomatic cars sporting an array of Middle Eastern flags.

Then some Newham Council officials turned up and claimed that the roundabout and pavements were private land, and with ever greater threats of arrest, the remaining protestors decided to return to the East gate, leaving just one lone woman to wave her banner at vehicles entering the compound.Image

Back east, police had also been imposing conditions, and the lock-on had been removed, with several arrests, including Christians who refused to end their sit-in. The roundabout was now surrounded by lines of TSG, and one gate was finally open to visiting traffic.Image

By 5.30, there were only about 30 people left, some hoping to stay in their tents overnight. To that end, they went round with a board claiming Section 6 squatter rights, which they showed to as many of the officers as they could.Image

There is a packed timeline of events planned for the rest of the week, with full details available at http://www.stopthearmsfair.org.uk/events/