london diary

march 2006

 

my london diary

the weekend of 4th/5th march was the 100th day of captivity for Norman Kember, harmeet singh sooden, james loney and tom fox, peace-workers who were in Iraq
. with the christian peacemaker teams. they were there to provide first-hand, independent reports from the region and offer training in nonviolent intervention and human rights documentation. c p teams have been based in iraq since 2002.

around a hundred people gathered on sunday afternoon for an hour of largely silent vigil in trafalgar square. there were brief addresses and prayers every quarter hour, with contributions from christians and a buddhist and muslim leader.
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the takeover by china of tibet starting in 1949 and continuing into the 1950s led to a national uprising in the country in 1959 with massive demonstrations in the lhasa region. over 80,000 tibetans were killed there and the dalai lama fled to india.

the march in london on 11 march marked the 47th anniversay of the uprising and included many members of the tibetan community in this country as well as supporters. leading the march and speaking at the rally at its end were two of the 'drapchi 14' nuns who were caught making secret recordings of independence songs and poems in prison in 1993.

originally imprisoned for years for taking part in peaceful demonstrations, they received further sentences of 5-9 years for "spreading counter-revolutionary propaganda" in making recordings. some of their recordings were later smuggled out of prison and released in the west

gyaltsen drolkar was released in 2002 and namdrol lhamo in 2003. they managed to escape from tibet by a long and dangerous walk over the mountains to nepal.

human rights abuses continue in tibet, with religious groups coming in for special treatment. as in the rest of china, supporters of falun gong in particular are being subjected to torture. western companies continue to co-operate with china in tibet, including the canadian bombardier company involved in building the gormo-lhasa (qinghai-tibet) railway which will integrate tibet into the chinese national railway system.

it's impossible not to feel strongly for the people of tibet and to sympathise with their cause. however china is such an important and growing power that western governments are more interested in growing trade than in human rights, and progress is likely to be very slow.

much of the british left still has an unadmirable reluctance over the issue. few of the people i see marching over other human rights issues were here marching for them in tibet. equally many the supporters of freedom in tibet seem largely to be concerned about abuses in that country and not active on human rights issues elsewhere in the world. of course there are exceptions to this, notably organisations such as amnesty.
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london now has one of the larger celebrations of st patricks day, held on the sunday before the actual day, with a parade from hyde park to trafalagar square and events there as well as in leicester square and covent garden.

the parade celebrates the enormous contribution the irish have made to the capital - approximately 400,000 people of irish descent form the largest minority group in london. paraders come from various community associations and other irish groups and cultural organisations in the london boroughs, including irish dancing, music and sports. There are also some groups from Ireland.

leading the parade is an irish wolfhound, the mascot of the london irish team, along with various irish leaders and of course the mayor of london, ken livingstone, more green than red on this occasion.
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the troops home from iraq; don't invade iran march on the 18th was another large event organised by stop the war, part of an international protest in cities around europe, north america, latin america, asia pacific, asia and africa - somewhere around a couple of hundred places. in london there were roughly 20,000 who walked out of parliament square past where i was taking pictures, although many like me will not have made it to trafalgar square, and others will have joined in later on the route.

it marked three years since the invasion of iraq on 20 march 2003. at the front of the march were the theatre of war representing both tony blair and george bush along with two police and two judges holding placards declaring the two leaders guilty.

behind them were the march leaders, including representatives of families of soldiers killed in iraq. they had a long, long yellow ribbon with the names - no ranks - of soldiers who have died so far in this illegal war and occupation. of course many more iraqis - more than 100,000 have died so far.

the invasion, doubtful on legal grounds was justified on the basis of false information, including information that was known to be incorrect when it was presented to parliament and the people.

already it has led to deaths in britain; only a small handful of people doubt that the london bombings would not have happened if britain had not joined in the invasion plans (that's tony blair and some of his cabinet.) actually it is hard to believe they doubt it, but rather they just can't bring themselves to admit it.

we've also seen the passage of draconian measures that attack civil liberties in this country (and attempts still being made to get more.) muslims in particular have been targeted, with a rise in islamophobia.

the expenditure in iraq has been vast. if you want to know why there isn't the money to raise pensions (and a week of pension protests was ending today with a conference in london) there is a simple 4 letter answer. iraq.

another four letter country, iran, is currently under threat. perhaps most chilling are the denials from blair and straw, who state that invasion is not on the table. for too many of us that just seems to make it more likely.

i took a lot of pictures of the march before i had to leave to meet friends elsewhere. as usual, high res versions are available for publication and payment may be waived for acceptable non-profit use.
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the pictures of us in the pub with townly are really only of interest to those who were there, though they do show what a digital camera can do in a coal cellar. boring pictures but shot at ISO 1600 and faster handheld with the f2.8 lens wide open and shutter speeds from 1/6 to 1/20s.
don't bother

the ivory coast was a french colony until independence in 1960, and france still likes to pull the strings. after the rigged elections of 2000, popular protest brought laurent gbagbo into power, and he refuses to dance to their commands. so the french supported a failed coup and still support the rebel forces who have pulled out of a peace agreement and now occupy the northern regions.

women from the ivory coast living in britain joined together to petition the uk government and march through london today. they were protesting against the way the international community and the uk in particular supports the french manipulation of ivory coast politics, demanding the disarmament of the rebels who are killing young men and killing and raping innocent women and asking for the reuinification of the country with proper elections. in particular they demanded the withdrawal of french armed forces from their country.

it was a lively demonstration, with much singing and dancing. i went with three of the women through the security cordon to deliver a petition to 10 downing street before the march set up through london. i remember when anyone could all walk through downing street without having to remove any metal objects from our pockets and go through a security scanner. this kind of over-reaction convinces me the terrorists are already winning the battle against freedom. if i hadn't had my press card with me i would only been able to gain admittance if my name had been submitted at least 3 days in advance.

i left the women at trafalgar square, being escorted by friendly and helpful police, as they continued their lengthy march through the west end.
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southgate is a leafy and affluent suburb in north london, suburban to the extreme. i was angered and saddened to hear of the racial persecution being suffered there by one family. they have received over 200 abusive letters, had their property and cars damaged, and been shouted at in a disgusting racialist fashion in a series of incidents over the last nine months.

those responsible are not young, uneduated and deprived, but a few of those who live nearby; older, educated and middle class. the family has complained to the police and other authorities, but the abuse continues and they decided to make a stand by organising a public demonstration on the street outside their home. racism such as this is simply not acceptable.

we all need to support them in this; such behaviour degrades us all, and i was sickened and angry to hear about this, as i'm sure the overwhelming majority of people who live in their street will be. it wasn't a big demonstration, but an important stand; this behaviour is not acceptable and must not be tolerated.
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back in trafalgar square there was a demonstration in favour of free speech, with around a thousand people from various organisations and none (numbers were very hard to assess, as many people on the edges of the crowd came and went during the afternoon.) i have slightly mixed feelings about this, sparked by the muslim reaction to the cartoons of the prophet. although i think we need to take care not to needlessly offend people, i also feel that the right to freedom of speech and for that matter, freedom of religion (or irreligion) are also vital.

the stated intention of the jyllands-posten was to highlight the problems in illustrating a children's book about the prophet, inviting around 40 artists to contribute drawings giving their ideas, of which 12 were published.

had similar drawings been made of jesus, christian publications would have been the first to ask for permission to reprint them (although others might well have deplored them), and a similar response would apply with most other faiths. only a few were unkind or islamophobic. extremist danish muslims added other, more offensive pictures, (including a completely unrelated AP wire photo) to inflame world muslim opinion.

it simply isn't true that muslims have always prohibited depictions of the prophet and other leaders although these have been relatively rare. of course any people or religion can decide not to produce such things, and call on its adherents not to do so, and regard their production by others as offensive.

there are plenty of things in our society that do offend me, often because of my religious and political beliefs, including many adverts, much tv and some government policies. but when i find something offensive, i might demonstrate against it, or write a letter, or even sign a petition, but what is really offensive is to start calling for people to be killed, and i'm pleased that it is also illegal.

i think we all need to have a sense of proportion and a spirit of tolerance. i don't support the idea of blasphemy laws in this country or the kind of draconian religious laws that are currently in place in some other countries. the cartoons that i found offensive were those that suggested that muslims were terrorists, which help to inflame the current islamophobia and support the targetting of muslims by our security forces.

the organisers of the event had asked that none of the cartoons should be used in placards and also wanted to ban extremist organisations such as the national front from taking part. in the event one demonstrator, born a muslim in iraq but no longer following the religion, did bring placards containing some of them and spoke at some length about why he felt he needed to do so, in particular to oppose the treatment of women in muslim countries.

i photographed him and the placards, but on this site the cartoons will be replaced by grey texture to prevent further offence to any muslims. i decided it isn't necessary to show them to make the point, and i think my isp would object to me posting them. i pray that muslim opinion on such matters will change, but until it does and while sensibilities are so inflamed it would be insensitive to display them.

later during the demonstration we were told that a complaint had been made to the police about his showing of the cartoons and that he was being questioned. The placards were then passed around so that hundreds of those present shared in his act of defiance.

there were a number of people with danish flags or other symbols to show their support of the danish publication. althought the organisers had asked people not to bring union jacks there were a few around. Other people carried flowers as symbols.

the police were concerned to keep order, but generally stood to one side keeping an eye on things. on my way into trafalgar square i'd noticed them questioning some muslims and halfway through the meeting a squad intercepted a small group of young men in muslim dress and ensured they left the area. it provided a strange contrast to the demand for free speech being made a few yards away, although i think those at the demonstration would probably have wanted them to be able to attend and also to make their point peacefully.

towards the end of the event, one of london's more flamboyant characters put in an appearance. king david is an ex-boxer who at some time had a disatrous accident and is a regular at many events with his own point of view expressed through various posters and artifacts he carries.

to the distress of the organisers, his outfit today, related to the slave trade, included the use of that ancient symbol, the swastika, made in this case from L plates. traditionally a holy symbol in hinduism and other eastern religions, as well as by native americans and europeans in the middle ages, it was a always symbol of good fortune, power and strength before being misappropraited by the nazis.

i saw a steward running towards him, followed to photograph and shortly found myself yet again at the front of a heaving and elbowing pack of photographers. the crowd united to tell the stewards to back off, and eventually some accord was reached. however at this point it began to rain and i decided it was time to make my way home.
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Norman Kember, Harmeet Singh Sooden, James Loney and Tom Fox.

100 days of captivity in Iraq: Interfaith Vigil, Trafalgar Square, London, March 5, 2006

© 2006, Peter Marshall
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Tibetan National Uprising Day

Chinese Embassy to Westminster Cathedral, London, 11 March 2006

The two Drapchi Nuns during prayers at the start of the march opposite the Chinese Embassy.
Tibet National Uprising Day March London © 2006, Peter Marshall
Namdrol Lhamo listening while her speech is being translated outside Westminster Cathedral

Tibet National Uprising Day March London © 2006, Peter Marshall
Gyaltsen Drolkar holds Tibetan national flag outside Westminster Cathedral

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London St Patrick's Day Parade

Park Lane, London, 12 March 2006


All ages were celebrating the Irish saint 
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Troops Home from Iraq; Don't Invade Iran

Parliament Square (to Trafalgar Sq), London, March 18, 2006

troops home from iraq © 2006, Peter Marshall
Marchers in Guantanamo fatigues and chains leaving Parliament Square, March 18, 2006

troops home from iraq © 2006, Peter Marshall
The march was supported by many groups .
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Ivorian Women Protest

London, March 25, 2006

Ivorian Women Protest © 2006, Peter Marshall
Women from the Ivory Coast demonstrate opposite Downing St, calling for French troops to withdraw.

Ivorian Women Protest © 2006, Peter Marshall
Three women went to hand in a petition at 10 Downing St asking the UK to put pressure on France.

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Protest Against Racism in the Suburbs

Southgate, London March 25, 2006
Against Racism © Peter Marshall, 2006
Protest against racist letters, damage and abuse of a family in North London. Southgate, March 25, 2006

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Protect Free Expression

Trafalgar Square, London March 25, 2006
Protect Free Speech © 2006, Peter Marshall
An Iraqi-born demonstrator, Reza Moradi, holds up a placard with some of the Danish cartoons.

Free Expression Rally © 2006, Peter Marshall
Maryam Namazie spoke passionately and to the point
Free Expression Rally © 2006, Peter Marshall Thomas Jefferson was one of many called upon for support. Danish flags could not be flown but were carried or worn by some of those attending the rally.

Free Expression Rally © 2006, Peter Marshall
Other speakers included Keith Porteous Wood, National Secular Society, Peter Tatchell and Evan Harris, MP.
Free Expression Rally © 2006, Peter Marshall
King David with his swastika symbol that upset the stewards.
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