National Gallery evicts peaceful protestors ahead of arms dealers' dinner

By staff writers
13 Sep 2011

The National Gallery called in the police this evening (13 September) to remove nonviolent campaigners who objected to the Gallery's decision to host an evening reception for visitors to the London arms fair.

Arms dealers arriving at the Gallery, in London's Trafalgar Square, were escorted past protestors by rows of police.

The National Gallery is now facing calls from the Campaign Aganist Arms Trade (CAAT) and other groups to break its links with the arms industry.

The event came at the end of a day of protests triggered by the opening of the London arms fair. The fair, known formally as Defence and Security Equipment International (DSEi), is taking place until Friday (16 September) at the Excel Centre in London's Docklands.

The protests at the National Gallery may have taken organisers by surprise. DSEi had not publicised the venue of the evening event and the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) had not given away the fact that they had discovered it.

A number of protestors politely declined to leave the Gallery when it was due to leave at 6.00pm, asking for an assurance from the management that the arms dealers' reception would not go ahead.

Two campaigners climbed on to the edge of the Gallery's balcony, overlooking Trafalgar Square, to unfurl a banner.

The police were called and forcibly removed several campaigners. Christian activists evicted from the building included Rev Chris Howson, a Church of England priest from Bradford, and Symon Hill, associate director of the Ekklesia thinktank.

Dozens of protestors then handed out leaflets to curious passers-by and challenged arms dealers as they entered the building surrounded by police. Chants ranged from “National Gallery, shame on you!” to, “We are not the criminals. Arrest the arms dealers!”.

Anger increased when a group of police escorted Geoff Hoon into the building. Hoon, who was Defence Secretary at the time of the invasion of Iraq, drew shouts of "Geoff Hoon, war criminal".

At least one protestor appears to have been arrested, but the situation remains unclear this evening.

[Ekk/1]

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