A coalition of NGOs, local residents and faith groups has announced a wave of protests in London next week in opposition to one of the world's largest arms fairs. Defence and Security Equipment International (DSEi) is due to be held at London's Excel Centre from Tuesday 13 - Friday 16 September.
Many of the groups are confident that they can shut down, or at least significantly disrupt the arms fair. Some are focusing on "shaming the government" and making them aware of the level of public outrage, to ensure that DSEi does not happen again.
There has been particular disgust that the fair will take place in the same week as the tenth anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Centre.
Campaigners say that the UK government's welcome of the Arab Spring is undermined by their willingness to invite representatives of oppressive regimes to view arms for sale on British soil. In previous years, the UK government has invited delegations from the government's of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Gaddafi's Libya to DSEi. The guest list for this year has yet to be made public.
DSEi is owned by Clarion Events and is run with financial and political support from the UKTI, a unit of Vince Cable's Department for Business.
The Stop the Arms Fair coalition has brought together a range of groups. They include the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) as well as the Fellowship of Reconciliation, a Christian-based peace campaign. They are joined by groups focused on direct action such as Disarm DSEi and local residents' organisations such as East London Against the Arms Fair (ELAAF).
Protests begin tomorrow (Thursday 8 September), when there will be a demonstration outside a pre-DSEi seminar for arms dealers, focusing on arms sales opportunities in the Middle East. The CAAT Christian Network will hold a Day of Prayer on Sunday and there will be a multifaith silent vigil at the steps of the Excel Centre on Monday evening.
On Tuesday 13 September, the arms fair will open to a series of protests, including a lawful demonstration, a mass lobby of Parliament, street theatre in central London and a series of nonviolent direct actions.
A spokesperson for Stop the Arms Fair said, "We will be doing everything we can to shut down DSEi 2011 and to shame the government for sponsoring it. This disgusting event needs to come to an end."
In a move that will severely restrict the freedom to protest around the arms fair, Home Secretary Theresa May has banned all marches in east London in September. In response, the spokesperson remarked, "Once again, demands from weapons makers and tyrannical regimes to have an arms-dealing jamboree are put ahead of the rights of objectors and local people to have their say."
The coalition's spokesperson continued, "While local residents in Newham face cuts to public services worth £116 million, it is an outrage that the government is spending taxpayers' money hosting arms dealers and human rights oppressors, suppressing public opinion and subsidising the arms trade".