Thousands to march in support of immediate ceasefire

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Indy Politics

The largest peace march since before the Iraq invasion is expected to descend upon Downing Street today demanding that Tony Blair calls for an unconditional ceasefire in the Middle East.

In a powerful demonstration of the groundswell of opinion across Britain, as many as 100,000 people are predicted to take to the streets around Parliament Square.

As Mr Blair was this week forced to concede that even members of his cabinet had "doubts" over his handling of the situation, protesters will deliver children's shoes to his London home to represent those whose lives have been lost in the 24-day conflict.

A letter bearing 40,000 signatures will also be handed in, calling on Mr Blair to work towards ending the "bloodshed and destruction unfolding daily".

Among many high-profile figures supporting today's march is the designer Katharine Hamnett, whose political T-shirts began a trend of sartorial protest more than 20 years ago. She has designed a special limited edition proclaiming simply: "Unconditional Ceasefire Now."

The Stop the War Coalition, which has organised the demonstration at "breakneck speed" in just seven days, said staff had been stunned by the strength of the response. Other organisers of the protest include the British Muslim Initiative, CND, the Palestine Solidarity Campaign and Lebanese community associations.

"The office has been inundated with telephone calls, emails, people walking inoff the street, offers of help of all kinds and donations from everyone from pensioners to peers of the realm," said the Stop the War Coalition spokesman, Andrew Burgin. "We have not experienced this outpouring of public anger against the British Government's pursuit of the Bush war agenda since the Iraq war of March 2003.

"We received a call from some ladies from Henley who had seen the leaflets in a Lebanese restaurant and said: 'We can't quite believe we are doing this, but we are going to come on your demonstration.'" Mr Blair has delayed a holiday in Barbados to carry out negotiations with other leaders, including President Jacques Chirac, on a United Nations ceasefire resolution. However, it appeared unlikely that a resolution would lead to the immediate ceasefire. Officials said it was hoped the resolution would be followed by a ceasefire, and that a multinational force would be sent in after a pause, but it could be some days before the fighting stops.

The letter to be delivered today will say that the signatories are dismayed that the British Government, almost alone, has not called for an immediate ceasefire.

"We therefore call on the Government to change its position and join the vast majority of the world's states, the UN secretary general and the Archbishop of Canterbury in calling for an immediate and unconditional ceasefire in Lebanon to save lives and prevent the destruction of that country," it continued.

Bianca Jagger, 56, a goodwill ambassador for the Council of Europe, said: "Israel's ongoing offensive in southern Lebanon and the subsequent killing and targeting of innocent civilians is in breach of humanitarian law.

"The UN Security Council has failed to condemn Israel for the massacre in Qana, of mostly women and children, as it has failed to condemn the deliberate killing of four UN observers. Furthermore, until today it has failed to call for an immediate and unconditional ceasefire. The Pope, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Kofi Annan and everyone who is morally abhorred by the war, are all calling for an immediate and unconditional ceasefire. However, Tony Blair continues to support George Bush in giving the green light to the onslaught."

Marchers plan to congregate at Speakers' Corner, Hyde Park, at noon before stopping at the American embassy on their way towards Parliament Square for a rally. Speakers will include Ms Jagger, the veteran peace campaigner Bruce Kent, and MPs from several parties.