Anti-capitalists turn their sights on arms dealers

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Arms dealers and defence equipment buyers from around the world will face an enemy tomorrow that governments fear the most – the anti-capitalism movement.

Arms dealers and defence equipment buyers from around the world will face the enemy tomorrow that governments fear the most ­ the anti-capitalism movement.

Groups involved in the mass protests at international summits in Gothenburg and Genoa this year are joining forces to confront the Defence Systems and Equipment international (DSEi) arms fair at the new ExCeL exhibition centre in London Docklands.

The fair, Europe's biggest arms extravaganza, is held every two years and is usually picketed by church and pressure groups such as the Campaign Against the Arms Trade.

This year, campaigners such as Reclaim the Streets and the White Overall Movement Building Libertarian Effective Struggle (the Wombles), which are better known for their anti-capitalist and anti-globalisation objections, are putting their weight behind what they claim will be peaceful protests.

Their aim will be to draw the public's attention to an event at which missiles, heavy weaponry and even ships will be on display and available to buy. Collectively, a group of activists called Disarm DSEi is calling upon protesters to gather for a Fiesta For Life Against Death tomorrow, the first of four days of planned demonstrations.

Richard Bingley, a spokes-man for Campaign Against the Arms Trade, said: "The fair seems to be attracting a lot of attention from the anti-globalisation lobby because it represents something that operates at a global level, is morally reprehensible and largely unaccountable ­ the production and sales of arms."

Activists point to a UN Human Development Report that says governments around the world spent $719bn on arms in 1999. Their Fiesta guide adds: "This is 14 times more than is needed to eradicate the very worst ­ 'absolute' ­ poverty from the world."

Mr Bingley said: "We are concerned about the countries that will be represented there. There are some, like Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and China, that have poor human rights records, and others, like Turkey, India and South Africa, that simply can't afford to be buying arms. Recently, South Africa signed a $3.5bn [£2.4bn] arms deal with European countries; that's 100 times more than its HIV treatment budget and 10 times more than its housing budget."

Alan Sharman, of the Defence Manufacturers' Association, said organisers were aware of the increased interest being taken by anti-capitalists. "There is nothing wrong with peaceful protest. If it becomes violent, then that is something for the police to deal with," he said.

"The moral justification for having an arms fair is the same as that used by populations and governments to have armies and navies and air forces; they want to defend themselves. That gives rise to an arms industry and, like any other industry, it wants to display its wares. There isn't anything wrong with that."

Mr Bingley disagreed, arguing that fairs such as DSEi fuelled conflicts. "DSEi indiscriminately promotes weapons sales to all sides of conflicts," he said. "Many of this year's invitees are from countries engaged in open hostilities, on the verge of conflict or in regions of extreme tension. For instance, India and Pakistan, Greece and Turkey. Israeli delegates attend among invitees from Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Saudi Arabia and Egypt ... It's hideously absurd that countries which spend most of their time at each others' throats can put aside differences for a week of retail therapy."

Extra policing is understood to have been organised, although the protesters' website ( calls on supporters to behave peacefully to provide contrast with the potential for destruction represented by the fair. Scotland Yard declined to comment on its plans.

The big defence companies such as Raytheon, Lockheed Martin and Marconi will be present. At the last fair, there was a mini-scandal when one exhibitor's stand was found to be illegally offering anti-personnel mines.