London anti-war march attracts 15,000 protesters

War on Terrorism: Demonstration
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The Independent Online

While their grammar was questionable, there was no mistaking their message. "1-2-3-4, we don't want no bloody war; 5-6-7-8, stop the bombing, stop the hate,'' bellowed the peace protesters as they inched their way through central London yesterday.

Upwards of 15,000 people, including well-heeled Middle Englanders, dubious-smelling crusties, veteran peace campaigners and pensioners, took part in what is believed to have been the biggest protest to date against the "war on terrorism". The event, which reverberated to the sound of whistles and drumming, was organised by Stop The War, a coalition representing numerous groups from trade unionists to politicians.

The peace campaigners at first massed in Hyde Park, some in carnival-style costumes, some on stilts and others in woollen hats and hiking boots who gave the impression that the event had been infiltrated by the Ramblers Association.

Standing next to a stage was Michael Letwin, president of the Association of Legal Aid Attorneys. Representing the New York City Trade Unionists Against the War, he said: "We want to make sure that people in Britain know there are people in the States, in New York in particular, who do not support the war because we view it as the same kind of criminal terrorism that we saw on 11 September. It is important that people know that those of us who have suffered don't want to inflict the same thing on other people.''

The rebel Labour MP Paul Marsden, who has just returned from a personal fact-finding mission to the region, later spoke at Trafalgar Square, saying that Afghanistan was now on the brink of anarchy. "The warlords are back with a vengeance and we are starting to read about the atrocities they are committing. There is no victory. It is the innocent civilians who are going to die. America in its grief has a lot to answer for in its revenge attacks on the civilians."

Louise Christian, a civil rights lawyer, said: "They are claiming justification under Article 51 of the United Nations Charter, which is self-defence. But there were no people from Afghanistan involved in what happened on 11 September. There is no justification in international law.

"All we have achieved in Afghanistan is to replace the Taliban with gangs of warlords who have no legitimacy and who are fighting amongst themselves.''

Andy Dean, 26, a student dressed as a pea-green alien, with eyes on stalks on top of his head, carried a sign reading: "No weapons in space''.

"We thought we'd dress up to have some fun, though I know it's a serious issue,'' he said. Other banners, many made at home with pieces of cardboard, read: "Muslims not guilty for twin towers''; "Make scones not war''; and "Another fine mess you've got us into''.

Mike Gabel, 28, a fashion designer from east London, was selling T-shirts bearing the words: "Make love not war", for £5. He had sold 12 in an hour. However, the man selling whistles for £1 and trumpets for £3 was not doing so well. "I'm representing entrepreneurial spirits for the over-50s who can't get work,'' he said, adding that he was keeping about 10p in every pound for himself. "It's very slow. A lot of people bought stuff for the march three weeks ago.''

Under a heavy police presence, the campaigners started their march towards Trafalgar Square. One group of students pulled a 25ft Grim Reaper on a wooden trolley. Two members of Artists Against The War stood on the pavement of Piccadilly operating the skeletal fingers of an enormous puppet whose face was half that of bin Laden and half that of George Bush. "They're both doing the same thing, killing people,'' said one of the artists.

Near the front was Godfrey King, 62, a retired company director from Wimbledon, south-west London, who usually spends his Sundays playing golf. "Bush and Blair are the biggest terrorists the world has ever seen,'' he said. "America has committed more deaths by terrorism than any individual has ever done. This isn't a war, this is state terrorism.''

In Trafalgar Square, Bianca Jagger, Tony Benn, Michael Mansfield QC, and Yvonne Ridley, the Express journalist held by the Taliban, were among the campaigners who gave speeches.

A Scotland Yard spokesman said the demonstration was "peaceful" and there had been no arrests.

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