Let peace rally go ahead, says Short

By Jo Dillon,Andrew Johnson
Sunday 02 February 2003 01:00
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Clare Short, the International Development Secretary, has made it clear that anti-war protesters have a democratic right to march against military action on Iraq.

Putting herself at odds with her Cabinet colleague Tessa Jowell, who upheld a ban on a Hyde Park rally on 15 February, Ms Short said she hoped "an accommodation" could be found.

Labour MPs have remarked on the "warped sense of priorities" that led the Government to back the ban on the grounds that the central London park's grass might be damaged, or that protesters could be injured, when a real threat to human life in the war on Iraq was at issue.

Ms Short said: "I welcome the fact that so many people in Britain are troubled by the prospects of war." She was glad she "lived in a country that did not relish war" and that people were "willing to make their views felt". She added: "That is important in a democracy."

Organisers of the rally, who will meet the Royal Parks Agency tomorrow, said Hyde Park was the only realistic venue for a rally likely to attract half a million people.

A spokeswoman for the Stop the War Coalition, which is organising various marches, pointed out the irony of a ban because of safety concerns: "You have to ask about the health and safety of thousands of people in Baghdad when 800 cruise missiles are targeted at them."

The coalition suspects the Hyde Park ban is part of a campaign hampering the international day of protest on 15 February; a Glasgow rally had already been banned, and police were trying to prevent a New York rally.

The Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, backs the rally being held in Hyde Park,and Labour MP George Galloway called the ban a "direct edict from the Labour leadership".

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