Anti-war groups pledge to protest across Britain while bombings continue

War on terrorism: Peace lobby
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The Independent Online

Thousands of anti-war protesters have gathered in cities across Britain to demonstrate against the military strikes on Afghanistan.

Thousands of anti-war protesters have gathered in cities across Britain to demonstrate against the military strikes on Afghanistan.

Demonstrators in London converged on Trafalgar Square and outside Downing Street, waving placards and chanting slogans such as "stop the war, feed the poor" and "not in my name" through loudhailers.

In the United States, however, overwhelming support for the bombing campaign easily drowned out the few anti-war voices being raised denouncing the military strikes.

Polls for several media organisation said nine out of 10 Americans approved of the attacks, which began on Sunday. Moreover, three-quarters of those questioned said they would support sending ground troops into Afghanistan.

In Britain, a loose coalition of socialists, environmentalists, Muslim and Christian groups have been planning protests over the internet for weeks to coincide with the start of any allied military campaign. The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, which is planning a mass demonstration this Saturday in London, met left-wing MPs including Tam Dalyell yesterday and held a vigil last night outside the House of Commons as MPs began an emergency debate.

The socialist-led Stop the War Coalition organised protests in cities including Edinburgh, Coventry, Belfast and Bristol, calling on the Allies to stop the bombing campaign and to bombard Afghanistan with aid instead.

Dave Nellist, the former Labour MP and the leader of the Socialist Alliance, who is organising the protests, said that the attacks would not "bring justice to the victims of the World Trade Centre atrocity".

The coalition includes the backing of radical groups such as Active Resistance to the Roots of War (Arrow), which led protests against the Gulf war. Public figures, including Tony Benn, Tariq Ali and Harold Pinter, have offered support.

Last night the Green Party was adamant that the protests, which will be maintained throughout Britain for as long as the bombings are carried out, would be peaceful. "All major town and cities will have a vigil or a rally while this action continues," said Spencer Fitzgibbon, a Green Party spokesman. "There will be thousands involved across the country. Bombing is not the way to rid the world of terrorism."

In America, groups of anti-war demonstrators gathered in several cities as the first wave of bombs was falling. In New York, about 7,000 protesters marched from Union Square to Times Square late on Sunday waving peace banners. "The people who are going to be hurting are not the people who started this," said Stuart Rockefeller, one of the marchers. Also in the crowd was Reuben Schafer, 87, who lost a grandson in the World Trade Centre disaster. He disapproved of the military action. "It is not time to act like bullies," he said.

Newspaper editorials in the US said the strikes were justified, but warned Washington against giving the impression of waging a war against Islam. "America and its allies must avoid falling into the trap that bin Laden has plainly tried to set," said The Boston Globe.

Nowhere was support for the military response clearer than around the site of the World Trade Centre itself. Cheers went up from "ground zero" when news of the first attacks came in.

The Mayor of New York, Rudolph Giuliani, said: "They feel that now something is being done to protect us against terrorism."