Anti-Iraq war demo will defy ban on march to parliament

By staff writers
8 Oct 2007

Protesters calling for the withdrawal of British and Western troops from Iraq say they will attempt to defy a ban by police and the UK government which is set to prevent them from entering Parliament Square today, under obscure legislation from 1839.

The Stop the War Coalition is furious that they have been told they may not march from Trafalgar Square to the Houses of Parliament, under an act that was used against the Chartists in the nineteenth century, and designed to protect the right of MPs to go to work.

"We are clearly not trying to stop MPs from going about their business", organiser Lyndsey German told the BBC Radio 4 'Today' programme this morning.

She added that it was "ironic" that a demonstration for democracy in Burma had been greeted by the PM on Saturday, and that the point that it could not have been held in Burma itself had been made, when the government was apparently seeking to prevent legitimate opposition to its war policies here in the UK.

Speakers at the march today will include former MP and ex-Labour Cabinet minister Tony Benn, musician Brian Eno, comedian and investigative journalist Mark Thomas, Labour rebel Walter Wolfgang (who was elected to the party's National Executive after being kicked out of a party conference for heckling Jack Straw over the Iraq war), Respect MP George Galloway, and Ben Griffin (an ex-SAS trooper).

Mr Benn declared in a letter to the Home Secretary: "The authority for this march derives from our ancient right to free speech and assembly enshrined in our history. It is only fair to tell you that the march will go ahead, in any case, and I will be among those marching."

Former soldier Mr Griffin added: "Gordon Brown cannot praise protesters in Burma and then ban a protest in London. I will be protesting on Monday, regardless of whether Police permission is granted."

The Stop the War Colaition itself has commented: "The Government has decided to ban a peaceful march called by the Stop the War Coalition on 8 October. The protest has been called to demand all the troops withdrawn from Iraq immediately. The police have said all protests within one mile of Parliament are now prohibited. This is an affront to democratic rights and contradicts the Prime Minister’s commitment to liberalising protest laws. We urge the authorities to review this decision."

Christian peace activist Brian Haw was removed from Parliament Square by police over the recess, using the pretext of health and safety concerns. His years long solo protest had led the government to introduce special legislation to prohibit demonstrations of even one person near parliament.

Mr Haw was recently prevented from being present when Nelson Mandela visited parliament and spoke to the media of the indivisibility of freedom of speech and justice in today's world.

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