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26 Trident protesters held

Twenty-six people were arrested yesterday as demonstrators tried to blockade a nuclear weapons factory. About 400 people gathered before 7am at entrances to the Atomic Weapons Establishment in Aldermaston, Berkshire, in an attempt to stop work at the site.

They sat down and some glued themselves together in protest against Trident submarine-based nuclear weapons. The Government is expected to decide on replacing the Trident system later this year.

Among those at the sit-in were Catholic and Anglican bishops and two Nobel peace laureates. "At a time of economic crisis, it is scandalous that billions of pounds are being squandered on new facilities at Aldermaston," said Kate Hudson, of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. AWE, which builds Trident warheads, said the site had operated as normal despite the protest.

Organisers of the protest said up to 800 people travelled from across the UK to take part in the blockade of the Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE) in Aldermaston, Berkshire, where warheads for Trident submarines are made.

Thames Valley Police, who said the figure was 400, made 19 arrests - five for obstructing the highway, six for entering the site and one on suspicion of causing criminal damage.

Demonstrators, including those from the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND), arrived at 7am and blocked the seven gates at the site either by sitting down in front of them or locking themselves together.

Two Nobel Peace Prize recipients - Jody Williams, who led a campaign to ban land mines, and Mairead Maguire, who fronted a drive to end violence in Northern Ireland - were among those taking part.

CND chairwoman Kate Hudson said: "People have come from all over the UK and we also have a big international contingent - it's the biggest blockade for many years.

"It's a reflection of the fact that the majority of the population is against the British possession of nuclear weapons.

"The Government wants to be a leading player in nuclear disarmament, but they can't say that and press ahead with the Trident replacement."

Brian Larkin, from Trident Ploughshares which helped organise the protest and who travelled from Helensburgh in Scotland, said: "This is the biggest blockade of Aldermaston in years and comes at a time when even major political parties are questioning the logic of spending up to £97 billion on useless weapons. It demonstrates the depth and breadth of determined civil society opposition to Trident and its planned replacement.

"Although the Government now seems to have delayed the next phase of Trident replacement until after the general election, the ongoing construction of facilities at the AWE for the design, development and manufacture of new nuclear warheads is illegal and immoral and will only lead to further proliferation of nuclear weapons."

Angie Zelter, co-founder of Trident Ploughshares, who travelled from Knighton in Wales, added: "In May, world governments will meet to review the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, but this programme of modernisation of UK nuclear weapons violates the treaty and could lead to a disastrous failure of the review conference."

Sarah Lasenby, from Oxford, said: "The time has come for the UK to disarm its nuclear weapons. Instead of building a new generation, the Government should go to the upcoming conference and commit to negotiations for a nuclear weapons convention to abolish nuclear weapons worldwide."

Chief Inspector Judith Johnson, Deputy Commander for West Berkshire Local Police Area, said: "The vast majority of protesters were peaceful and we would like to express our thanks to them for their co-operation and consideration throughout the day.

"However a small minority seemed intent on causing problems. Our foremost priority was public safety and minimising disruption to the community and local businesses.

Assistant Chief Constable Brian Langston added: "We have taken steps to learn the lessons highlighted from the G20 demonstrations last year and have been liaising with the protest groups during the course of the year to ensure that there were no surprises for either the police or the protesters."