Thousands march to demand withdrawal of troops from Iraq

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The Independent Online

More than 10,000 protesters descended on London yesterday for a mass demonstration against the war in Iraq.

Many of the protesters, who marched from Parliament Square to Hyde Park blowing whistles and carrying placards, were demanding the immediate withdrawal of British troops.

Buses were used to bring people from all over Britain to join the demonstration, organised by the Stop the War Coalition.

Scotland Yard estimated that crowds had swollen to 10,000 people by the time the march reached Hyde Park in the early afternoon, although organisers put the numbers at up to 100,000. Other marches were planned for the United States.

Andrew Murray, chairman of the Stop the War Coalition, said people were marching to show their solidarity with Muslims bearing "the brunt of attacks" in Iraq.

He told the crowd: "We cannot say how many are here, but there are certainly tens of thousands from all over the country marching above all to bring the troops home from Iraq and end the bloody disastrous occupation."

The former Labour MP Tony Benn, who also took part in the demonstration, described the war as "unwinnable" and said it had been waged "for oil and power".

"We demand that troops come out of Iraq and that a date is set now," he said.

The demonstration, which was the 12th to be held over the past few years, began outside the Houses of Parliament where protests have been banned under new laws.

Peter Brierley, from Batley in West Yorkshire, whose son Shaun, 28, died in Kuwait in 2003, said: "My son was betrayed by Blair. If the Government do not bring them out, there will be more families like us."

For Sue Smith, who lost her son in a roadside explosion in Basra two months ago, the day was highly emotional. She choked back tears as she read out a letter delivered to Downing Street earlier yesterday, begging Tony Blair to withdraw British troops.

"Seven weeks ago we saw our son for the last time in a coffin at the chapel of rest," she said.

"You can never know how it feels, but you have the power to stop it happening again. You made the decision to go to Iraq and you can make the decision to get our sons and daughters out of there."

British soldier Lance Corporal George Solomou, who refused his call-up to serve in Iraq, was near the front of the protest as it made its way to Trafalgar Square and on to Hyde Park.

He said: "I am here to show my solidarity. The British people are realising they have been told more and more lies about this war."