A massive police operation and a thunderstorm combined to dampen the spirits of anti-war and anti-globalisation demonstrators who had converged on the Labour Party conference yesterday.
Fewer than half of the predicted 10,000 protesters showed up in Brighton where Sussex police, anxious to avoid a repeat of the mayhem at summits in Gothenburg and Genoa, had called in reinforcements from surrounding forces as part of the biggest security operation they have ever mounted.
The marchers were corralled behind crash barriers and accompanied by hundreds of police officers in riot gear as they wound along the seafront to the conference centre. Scores of riot vans and mounted police units were on stand-by and side streets were sealed off to keep the protesters away from the town centre.
Early trouble flared as police waded into the crowd and plucked out several demonstrators identified as troublemakers. Police later announced that seven arrests had been made – five for conspiracy to damage and two for public order offences.
The drenched demonstrators were drawn from an array of organisations, including the Socialist Alliance, the Green Party, Globalise Resistance, trade unions and pensioners' groups. A march organiser, Chris Nineham, said: "The support we have had has been phenomenal. It has been a peaceful event with young and old people."
A Sussex police spokesman agreed that the demonstration had gone off with little trouble. He added: "At the point where the march began, there were about 1,000 and the figure grew to around 4,000 as it wound through the streets. The weather has been appalling and it must have put off some of the waverers from attending."
Police searched all coaches and vans heading for the demonstration, delaying the start of the march by two hours.
The conference site has been surrounded by steel barriers to stop cars crashing through. Armed police are backed up by sharpshooters on rooftops. A five-mile air-exclusion zone has been declared, to prevent attacks similar to those in America on 11 September.