Hundreds of coaches will bring protesters to rally in Hyde Park

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Britains's largest wartime rally will attract hundreds of thousands of demonstrators to London today, with further national protests planned if military action in Iraq becomes prolonged.

Britains's largest wartime rally will attract hundreds of thousands of demonstrators to London today, with further national protests planned if military action in Iraq becomes prolonged.

Organisers concede that the turn-out could fall short of last month's anti-war demonstration, which drew up to two million protesters to the capital. But they say hundreds of coaches will bring people from all over the country for the mass demonstration.

Using two march routes, protesters will converge on Hyde Park, where speakers will include the human rights activist Bianca Jagger; Ken Livingstone, Mayor of London; the singer Billy Bragg; and London schoolchildren.

Lindsey German, convener of the Stop The War Coalition, said today's action would be followed by regional protests next week, with a further national demonstration in about a fortnight.

"There is still a huge movement against the war. It isn't going away. It isn't convinced by the argument that the war has begun and there is nothing we can do or that you can't criticise because troops have started fighting," she said.

Other protests will take place outside a US air base in Harrogate, RAF Fairford in Gloucestershire and in Tony Blair's constituency of Sedgefield in Co Durham.

Yesterday, protesters on bicycles brought rush-hour traffic to a crawl in central London as they cycled through Whitehall, passing Downing Street and Parliament Square. A similar demonstration also disrupted traffic in Sheffield.

Police arrested 16 people on public order offences after protesters tried to block Princess Road, Hulme, one of the main commuter routes into Manchester city centre.

Assistant Chief Constable Rob Taylor said: "Any attempts to cause widespread disruption to the public or carry out illegal activity will be swiftly dealt with."

Demonstrations were also held in towns and cities across Northern Ireland, including Belfast, Londonderry, Omagh and Strabane.

After several thousand teenagers demonstrated in Parliament Square on Thursday, Conservative-controlled Westminster council said it was working with police to deal with children who played truant to join the protests.

In the Commons, the anti-war Labour MP George Galloway said the "ironclad consensus" in the Commons was not shared in the country.

He told Geoff Hoon, the Defence Secretary: "For the first time in history the action you have ordered the forces to take is not supported by the majority of the British people, as is shown by the demonstrations all over the country."

Mr Hoon said: "I defended your right to protest ... This is essential to the values which underpin why we are here."

Where to go

NOON: The march will set off from two points, Gower Street and Embankment. The two processions will follow the same route as 15 February to Hyde Park, converging in Piccadilly Circus.

2PM: A rally in Hyde Park will start at 2pm with speeches by Diane Abbot, Tony Benn and George Galloway. Nearest Tube stations are Warren Street and Russell Square for Gower Street, Embankment for Embankment. The Central Line services are still suspended. For more information: www.stopwar.org.uk

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