Gaffe-prone London Mayor Boris Johnson has been roundly condemned for his "feeble" defence of London hosting an arms fair peddling weapons to dictators.
Following widespread criticism of the trade fair, the Mayor told the UK edition of online newspaper the Huffington Post that the Defence & Security Equipment International (DSEi) exhibition helped countries get their hands on "legal weapons".
But critics point out that the "legal weapons" are in many instances going to regimes described by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and others as violent, dictatorial and repressive.
Among the the 30,000 attending the show at London's Excel Centre from today (Tuesday 10 September) are the Russian company who have been supplying military-related equipment to President Assad in Syria, state technology firm Rostec.
"Mr Johnson seems to have no understanding of the distinction between legality and morality," one anti-DSEi protester told Ekklesia today. "I am shocked that he is apparently happy for London to be a global merchant of death, hosting the world's largest arms fair and putting out the red carpet for dictators."
The Mayor told HuffPostUK: "This is an argument that is centuries old and thankfully global conflicts are diminishing in number, but insofar as it is necessary for governments and authorities to be properly equipped against those who mean them and their people harm, it is only sensible to have legal weapons. It so happens that this country is an expert at making some of them."
Critics say that the reality is that companies supplying teargas used in Turkey, Brazil and Bahrain are involved in DSEi, along with Israeli companies displaying “battle-tested” weapons, 14 authoritarian regimes including Saudi Arabia and Uzbekistan, six countries at war including Afghanistan and Iraq, and nine invitees identified by the UK Foreign Office as countries with "the most serious wide-ranging human rights concerns".
Opponents of the show include church and faith groups, human rights, development and peace organisations, and members of the Labour, Green and Liberal Democrat parties - though the Liberal Democrats, despite longstanding criticisms of the arms trade, are now officially promoting it with coalition partners the Conservatives.
The Church of England, which over the weekend was revealed to have up to £10 million invested in one leading arms firm alone, has not commented on DSEi.
Labour Assembly Member John Biggs said: "I have long argued that Excel should not be home to an arms fair. While the reality of life is that arms are a necessary evil their display in a city centre location identified mainly with leisure activities trivialises a deadly issue and offends me and I think many other Londoners."
Green assembly member Jenny Jones told the Huffington Post UK: "The Mayor should focus on what is moral, rather than what is legal."
She continued: “I’ve been inside this event to take a look for myself and I think it shames London. Promoting an industry that thrives on the kind of death and destruction we are witnessing in Syria is not a good thing."
"The government should end its subsidies for the arms industry. I hope this is the last arms fair ever held in London," declared Ms Jones.
Kaye Stearman, from the Campaign Against Arms Trade, which has helped organise peaceful protests against DSEi, added: "Boris Johnson has a reputation for making outrageous remarks and this lives well up to his usual standard. The UK's involvement in the arms trade is not sensible but stupid."
Critics are asking how the UK government can simultaneously claim to be promoting democracy throughout the world while arming those who are seeking to suppress it.
* Stop the Arms Fair: http://www.stopthearmsfair.org.uk
* Campaign Against Arms Trade: http://www.caat.org.uk
* Huffington Post UK: http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk