Anti-war protesters to defy ban for Parliament march

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Anti-war protesters are expected to clash with police today as they defy a ban to march to Parliament on the day MPs return to work after the summer recess.

Campaigners say this is the first time Scotland Yard has invoked an ancient law to prevent them demonstrating near Parliament, describing it is an "unprecedented attack on civil liberties". One said the impetus for the crackdown on the march had come from Government, adding: "In this new era [under Gordon Brown] they want to draw a line under the anti-war movement."

Appealing to the Metropolitan Police to reverse the decision to impose a ban and ensure the safety of peaceful demonstrators, the Stop The War Coalition (STWC) said the ban had served only to swell their numbers. Undeterred, organisers plan to hold a rally in Trafalgar Square then march to Parliament to call for all troops to be withdrawn from Iraq.

Tony Benn, the veteran Labour MP who announced his desire last week to return to the Commons, said he would be defying the ban. In a letter to the Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, he said: "The authority for this march derives from our ancient right to free speech and assembly enshrined in our history."

Chris Nineham, of STWC, said they had no intention of disrupting parliamentary business, adding: "We have marched in exactly these same areas and they have never used this law before. A few days after Mr Brown promised to enhance civil liberties, this is a serious assault on the right to protest."

A former SAS soldier, Ben Griffin, who will be on the march, said: "Gordon Brown cannot praise protesters in Burma and then ban a protest in London."