Protesters gather to vent their anger at PM

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Indy Politics

They range from the very young to a woman of nearly 101 and had already started arriving last night, by train, foot, bicycle and on horseback. A multitude of protesters, harbouring anger and indignation over some of the most basic tenets of the Government's foreign, environmental and judicial policies, will gather today, on the eve of the Labour Party conference in Manchester, for one of the biggest public protests the city has seen in modern times.

About 30,000 people are expected to mass in the city ahead of a three-hour march, under the banner "Time to Go", aimed at challenging Tony Blair's stance on a number of emotive issues: the occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan, the Government's response to the bombing of Lebanon this summer, the next generation of nuclear weapons, the building of new nuclear power stations and the deportation of failed asylum-seekers.

The protest was well under way at lunchtime yesterday as scores of people joined an anti-war "peace camp", set up by Military Families Against the War (MFAW) on Thursday afternoon. The protesters appear to have benefited from Manchester City Council's decision to refuse them permission to camp at Albert Square in the city centre on safety grounds. Facing a showdown with MFAW's Rose Gentle, whose son Gordon died in Iraq two years ago, the council found a compromise location in St Peter's Square on the opposite side of Manchester town hall. The Labour council leader, Richard Leese, tried to smooth things over by arriving to declare the camp open, but the furore created by the initial refusal had boosted the camp's tents to more than 20 by yesterday afternoon.

At 1pm today, their occupants will join the protest march on a route which circles the large city centre "island" - encompassing the Manchester International Conference Centre, the G-Mex centre and the Midland and Radisson hotels - which has been closed to the public for the duration of the conference.

The march, starting in Albert Square and moving up central Deansgate, will be supported by members of Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and the National Coalition of Anti-Deportation Campaigns. Greater Manchester Police will have 1,000 officers patrolling the event with 250 from neighbouring forces in reserve. "It is the biggest operation in terms of public order that Greater Manchester has ever had," said Superintendent John O'Hare, who is in charge of policing.

The number of protesters willing to travel from London has delighted the Stop the War Coalition, CND and the Muslim Association of Britain, who are organising the march. A fully booked "Peace Train" carrying more than 600 passengers will leave London and coachloads more, from Dundee to Newquay, will arrive to hear speakers including Tony Benn and Brian Eno ahead of the march. One group of protesters has travelled by foot over the Peak District from Sheffield, environmentalists have made it by bicycle from London and an MFAW campaigner, Wendy McCartney, has ridden her horse from Whitchurch in Shropshire on a so-called "Ride for Peace" - to widespread acclaim en route.

The march will mark the start of five days' of potential gridlock for Manchester - the price it must pay for attracting the first Labour Party conference in the city since 1917. A large area around the conference venues and hotels was closed to traffic from yesterday, the latest stage in a police operation which will involve 1,000 officers a day and cost £4.2m.

Security arrangements, which had to be reviewed earlier in the week after thieves stole a laptop with confidential plans for the conference, include a no-fly zone. The public will also be denied access to the conference area where metal fencing, concrete blocks and check points have been installed to create a "ring of steel" around the G-Mex and the international conference centre. Work has also taken place to make the "buffer zone" outside the security barriers secure.

The zone includes the site of St Peter's Field, where Manchester's "Peterloo" occurred after a radical orator, Henry Hunt, addressed 60,000 people in August 1918 and police officers intervened, killing 11 people.

A history of demonstrations

1985

Militant Tendency opponents of Neil Kinnock, led by Derek Hatton, barrack the Labour leader as he demands an end to extremism within the party.

2001

Anti-globalisation protesters stage a demonstration in Brighton. It follows a series of clashes earlier in the summer with Italian police at a G8 summit in Genoa.

2003

Protesters against Iraq war mass in Bournemouth, carrying placards saying: "Bomber Blair doesn't care." They are joined by other protesters challenging the implementation of university top-up fees and foundation hospitals.

2004

Almost 10,000 fox-hunting enthusiasts, led by the Countryside Alliance, lay siege to the Labour Party Conference in Brighton in protest at the proposed ban on hunting with dogs.

2005

Walter Wolfgang, 83, is ejected from the Labour Party conference after shouting "nonsense" during a speech by the Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, defending British policy in Iraq. His intervention results in ejection from the hall by security guards and the Terrorism Act is used to prevent his re-entry. The Labour Party later apologises and allows his readmission.

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