The government has been urged to cancel an international arms fair planned for London, following evidence that over three quarters of the UK public believe it was wrong for the UK to have allowed arms sales to the Gaddafi regime in Libya.
There was embarrassment for ministers when a YouGov poll in the Sunday Times showed that 76 per cent of respondents said it was wrong to have sold arms to Libya. Fewer than one in ten (seven per cent) thought it was right.
The Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) described the poll as evidence of "widespread public revulsion" at UK arms sales to despotic regimes in the Middle East and north Africa who have used British weaponry against peaceful protesters.
Campaigners from CAAT and the British-Libyan Solidarity Campaign handed in a petition to Downing Street calling on the Prime Minister to cancel the London arms fair due in September.
The biennial event, known officially as Defence Systems and Equipment International (DSEi), is one of the world's largest arms fair and regularly attracts protests for facilitating the sale of arms to some of the world's most brutal regimes.
The petition is part of CAAT's campaign 'This is not OK', which highlights the government's promotion of arms sales to repressive regimes and countries engaged in armed conflict.
The petition states, "In September 2011, the government will help organise a massive arms fair, DSEi, in London. Thousands of arms dealers from across the globe will gather to deal in death. Clarion Events, the private company that owns the arms fair, defends its role by arguing that it is part of the legal arms trade. This is not OK."
The petition includes hundreds of personal messages to the Prime Minister, demanding an end to the government promotion of arms exports and no further sales to repressive regimes and areas in conflict.
Azeldin El-Sharif of the British-Libyan Solidarity Campaign was among those handing in the petition. He said, "Libyans in exile are watching and reporting as Gaddafi’s regime tries to crush opponents using weapons sold by the UK and other EU countries. For many years we have been campaigning to stop the British government selling weapons systems to the Gaddafi dictatorship."
Sarah Waldron, CAAT's Campaign Co-ordinator, added, "Sadly, arms sales to Gaddafi were not a one-off event but part of a targeted sales campaign".
She criticised UK Trade and Investment (UKTI), a unit of the Department for Business responsible for promoting UK exports. UKTI promotes the sales of private arms companies through its Defence and Security Organisation (DSO).
"The UK routinely supplies repressive regimes," said Waldron, "Even though it must know that these weapons are likely to be used for internal repression. Mr Cameron's visit to the Middle East, accompanied by arms company bosses, show that his focus is on increasing, not restraining, arms sales."
Prime Minister David Cameron toured the Middle East from 21 February to 23 February, accompanied by a high-level trade delegation including eight arms companies executives. Recent UK arms sales to the Middle East include tear gas and crowd control ammunition to Bahrain and Libya.
CAAT's Christian Network has confirmed that this year's Stop the Arms Trade Day of Prayer will take place on 11 September, to coincide with the week in which DSEi will take place if it is not cancelled. It will also be the tenth anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon in the US.