Hundreds of thousands march against the war in Lebanon
Hundreds of thousands of peace protestors marched in demonstrations in the UK and other parts of the world yesterday, calling for a halt to the Lebanon war. Both official and unofficial marches and vigils took place.
In London, Stop the War Coalition, CND, the Muslim initiative and Palestinian and Lebanese groups estimated that 60,000 people turned out to rally against the British government's failure to call for an immediate ceasefire. Police put the figure at only one-third of this.
Meanwhile, Italian chairperson of the international humanitarian Catholic agency Caritas, Monsignor Vittorio Nozza, denounced the war this weekend and said that it was morally wrong that aid corridors were continuing to be blocked in Lebanon.
The London demonstrators, representing a wide range of civic, political and religious participants, passed by the entrance to Downing Street, where Prime Minister Tony Blair lives.
A pile of small shoes was left at a nearby war memorial to symbolise children's lives lost in the 25-day-old war between Israel and Hezbollah guerrillas.
Demonstrators delivered a 40,000 petition, Mr to Blair's office, adding to the 35,000 signatories collected by Christian, Muslim and secular development agencies last week.
"I have not been on a demonstration for 40 years. That is how much I consider this is important to be here today," Trevor Sutton, a retired 66-year-old man, told Reuters news agency.
The UK government has come under fire domestically ñ both in parliament and within the Labour Party ñ for following US President George Bush's lead and refusing to call for an immediate end to the fighting, which has killed at least 734 people in Lebanon and 78 Israelis.
Not long after the march, the United States and France agreed a draft United Nations Security Council resolution that Mr Blair said could lead to a halt in fighting within days ñ though people on the ground remain sceptical.
At least three legislators from the Labour Party spoke at a rally after the London march, criticising the government's response to the war and calling for the British parliament to return from its summer break to discuss the crisis.
"I bring a message for Tony Blair. You bring shame upon this country," said Labour MP John McDonnell, a left-winger who has said he will challenge for the leadership of the party when Mr Blair steps down before the next general election expected in 2009.
There were minor scuffles outside Downing Street when the Rhythms of Resistance samba band arrived and staged a die-in, according to a report on Indymedia UK.
Said one eyewitness: ìOthers gradually joined the sit-down, although Stop the War coalition stewards were urging the passing crowd to not join in and police quickly surrounded the sitting protestors. After some twenty minutes, the samba band moved on, but some activists tried to use pipes to lock on the groundÖ I witnessed one young man being held face down on the ground with his neck bent to one side and his face being pushed hard down onto the road.î
Other protestors have alleged intimidatory and heavy-handed policing in London, but the police deny this. The demonstration mostly passed off peacefully.
Hezbollah today launched a series of further rocket attacks on Israel, apparently belying claims from the Israeli Defence forces that their actions in the Lebanon are crushing the group.
Churches and non-sectarian peace groups have called on both sides to cease their assaults and stop the killing of innocent civilians.