Threat of reprisals boosts ailing membership of anti-war groups

War on Terrorism: Peace Movement
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The Independent Online

Thousands are expected to join demonstrations across Britain as President George Bush's war on terrorism prompts a revival in the flagging fortunes of peace groups.

A weekend of protest saw many take to the streets of Britain, as well as a protest outside a US air base.

Representatives from 20 organisations have held a crisis meeting in central London to decide on their strategy in advance of the anticipated attacks on Afghanistan.

President Bush's hardline rhetoric over the US National Missile Defence scheme had already prompted membership of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament to rise by 8 per cent in the past year and inquiries have increased sharply since the attacks. A strong recruitment campaign in the universities has resulted in a new generation of peace campaigners, according to CND organisers.

The group had previously been forced to make cutbacks as membership fell to 30,000, less than a third of the total during the mid-1980s.

CND had focused on lobbying work and smaller protests but a spokesman, Nigel Chamberlain, said the alliance of peace groups could again lead to mass demonstrations.

"It has been an ageing membership," he said. "The Bush presidency has transformed that and given us fresh impetus."

Further links are being made with groups across Europe, the US and Asia for further demonstrations. CND is also involved with a march and rally for peace and justice on 13 October in London. It was originally designed to be one of 85 protests worldwide against the "son of Star Wars" programme but is now planned as a broad er peace protest.

Thousands were involved in peaceful rallies and silent vigils throughout Britain at the weekend, including 3,000 people in London. Other protests were in Manchester and Glasgow. In Whitehall on Saturday, many wore black and stood "shoulder to shoulder" in a protest against Tony Blair's description of Britain's relationship with the US. Others carried placards reading: "Stand shoulder to shoulder for peace and justice. No more violence."

Britons and Americans protested yesterday outside the biggest US air force installation in Europe, the Lakenheath air base in Suffolk. Craig Hickman-Havorson said: "I have relatives in America and I have every sympathy with the relatives of people who have suffered in these atrocities. I just don't think that a military strike is the answer."

The protests follow a candlelit vigil outside Downing Street a week after the air strikes, organised by Arrow. Another group staged a "Picnic for Peace" in London yesterday.

Kevin Mullen, spokesman for the Campaign Against Arms Trade, said: "The calls for restraint seem to be coming from a lot of voices and a lot of organisations." The group had protested outside an arms fair in London's Docklands on the day the suicide hijackers struck.