An international arms fair opening in London yesterday was met with a wave of protest from local residents, community leaders, politicians and Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT).
The comedian and writer Mark Thomas addressed a peaceful demonstration organised by CAAT outside the event.
The fair, Defence Systems and Equipment International (DSEi), will run until Friday at the Excel Centre in Newham, east London.
Mark Thomas pointed out that a number of human rights abusers have been invited to DSEi, including the governments of China, Libya, Colombia and Saudi Arabia.
Other speakers included CAAT's Ian Prichard, Green Party mayoral candidate Sian Berry and local councillor Alan Craig, who welcomed a unanimous vote against DSEi by Newham Borough Council.
Local residents Len Aldis and Bill Perry contrasted the Government's condemnation of gun crime with its approval of a major arms fair.
Ian Prichard of CAAT said: "DSEi's owner, Reed Elsevier has decided to improve its reputation by selling the fair. The Prime Minister has responded to public concerns by choosing to close the unit that helps to run DSEi. The Government and business community are beginning to realise that participation in the arms trade is not an option for anyone who wants public opinion on their side. They must now follow this through and ensure that 2007 sees the end of DSEi."
Writer and comedian Mark Thomas said: "After the scandals of BAE Systems and the collapse of the bribery investigation by the Serious Fraud Office, BAE's centre-stage
presence at DSEi this year is nothing short of corporate contempt for the rule of law and observance of human rights. The multitude of arms dealers gathered from around the world to flog guns, bombs and the other wherewithal to take human life while Londoners pay £4 million police bill to protect the arms dealers from peace protesters makes DSEi unacceptable and unwelcome."