my london diary index

June 2008

International Congolese Day Demonstration
Chagos Islanders Picket House of Lords
Eco-Towns Scam - Parliament Lobby
60 Years of Israel
Exhibitions & South Bank
Olympic Site and Stratford Update
Jubilee Debt Campaign - Giant Paper Chain
Empire Windrush - 60th Anniversary
Orchid-Star Plays Parliament Square
No to US Missile Defence
40th Rathayatra Chariot Festival in London
Tent City - Stop Deporting Iraqis
Manor Gardening Society - New Allotments
Stop the Fascist BNP - LMHR/UAF
World Naked Bike Ride, London 2008
Break the Chains -Free Political Prisoners
Hampton & Hampton Hill 30th Anniversary Parade
Sikh Remembrance March and Freedom Rally
Portugal Day in Kennington Park
Lord Muruga in Thornton Heath
Peace Strike - Parliament Square
Youth March against Knives
Release the Cuban 5
Carnival Against the Arms Trade
Brian Haw - 7 Years
Fight the Height, Walthamstow


Stock photography by Peter+Marshall at Alamy

Other sites with my pictures include
london pictures
londons industrial history
>Re:PHOTO My thoughts on photography

All pictures © Peter Marshall 2008, all rights reserved.
To reproduce images or buy prints or other questions and comments, contact me. Selected images are also available from Alamy and Photofusion

International Congolese Day Demonstration

Downing St, London. Monday 30 June

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A remarkably cheerful group of Congolese celebrated International Congolese Day, the anniversary of independence from Belgium in 1960, with a lunchtime demonstration opposite Downing St about the terrible situation in their the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

Organised by International Congolese Rights, it drew attention to the killings (6 million since 1966), rapes and other human rights abuses in DRC and and also called for a stop to deportation of asylum seekers there. The DRC is a police state with very limited freedom for dissent; opposition politicians, journalists, human rights activists and others are at risk of harassment, imprisonment, killing or simply disappearing, particularly if they draw attention to government corruption.

Demonstrators called for Britain, Europe and America to freeze the bank accounts of President Joseph Kabila and his cronies, and for Gordon Brown and the International Criminal Court to take action against the corrupt Kabila regime.

It isn't clear exactly who the various militia that run most of the DRC are - though neighbouring African governments such as Rwanda and Uganda, oil and mineral companies and other organised criminals are said to be profiting from their activities. The companies also profit greatly through 'sweetheart deals' made with the Kabila government.

DRC is a country of vast mineral wealth - up for grabs, and the militia are grabbing. Most important is coltan, an ore containing niobium and tantalum, essential for mobile phones and other electronic devices - and 80% of known world reserves are in DRC. Other important minerals include diamonds, copper, cobalt and gold.

The DRC is capitalism taken to its extremes. A UN report in 2001 concluded "Business has superseded security concerns. The only loser in this huge business venture is the Congolese people."
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Chagos Islanders Picket House of Lords Appeal

Old Palace Yard, Westminster. Monday 30 June

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Around thirty Chagos islanders and supporters picketed today opposite the Houses of Parliament from 9am to 2 pm, where the appeal by the British government against the court decisions giving them the right to return to their homeland was being heard by the House of Lords.

In 1966 the British government split the Chagos Islands away from Mauritius, with the intention of setting up a US air base on the main island of Diego Garcia. From 1967 on the British used a variety of methods and tricks to remove the entire population of the Chagos archipelago. These included buying up and closing down the copra plantations (cheap because they were now unprofitable) which were the main work on the islands (though the islanders had a viable subsistence economy without this), and eventually stopping supplies to the island and forcing those remaining onto a ship that dumped them in Mauritius.

Some of the islanders were descendents of slaves who had come there over 150 years earlier when the island was under French rule, others had come later from Mauritius, India, Madagascar and Mozambique after the island became British when Napoleon was defeated. Around 8000 are still living in Mauritius, which became independent in 1968, but many of those born on the Chagos islands still have British passports, and some now live in this country.

The Chagossians (Ilois) have gone to the British courts and won the right to return to return to 65 islands (not including Diego Garcia itself.) The British government have refused to carry out these rulings and appealed. They lost the appeal in the High Court in May 2007, and appealed again to the House of Lords, which was expected to begin considering the case today.
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Eco-Towns Scam - Parliament Lobby

Old Palace Yard, Westminster. Monday 30 June

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Demonstrators from eight of the 15 sites shortlisted for eco-towns came to demonstrate and lobby Parliament today, the last day of the government consultation over the sites identified for the 10 developments. The protest groups came from Curborough (Staffs), Elsenham (Essex), Ford (West Sussex), Hanley Grange (Cambridgeshire), Marston Vale (Bedfordshire), Middle Quinton (Warwickshire), Pennbury (Leicestershire) and Weston Otmoor (Oxfordshire.)

On College Green they were met by MPs from the constituencies affected, and the Shadow Minister for Communities and Local Government, and later in the day attended a public meeting in the Houses of Parliament.

Five eco-towns, zero-carbon brown-field housing developments using recycled materials with local facilities such as shops, schools and leisure facilities were an election pledge for George Brown, and at the Labour Party Conference he doubled their number to at least on in each region and a total of 10.

These eco-towns would each have between 5-20,000 homes and would each act as an exemplar in at least one area of environmental technology. Although original government intentions were good, if possibly poorly thought out, they soon deteriorated through the usual kowtowing to the construction industry.

In May, 15 locations were identified for possible eco-towns, and almost all (if not all) fail to satisfy the original criteria set by the government. As well as those represented at the rally there are: Bordon (Hampshire), Coltishall (Norfolk), Imerys nr St Austell (Cornwall), Leeds City Region (Yorkshire), Manby (Lincolnshire),
Rossington (South Yorkshire) and Rushcliffe (Nottinghamshire.)

One key area that eco-towns are supposed to address is car use, aiming for only 40% of journeys to be by private car (25% in an exemplar eco-town.) At the moment around 10% of the adult population (including myself) choose not to own a car. To increase this, eco-towns need either to integrate into an existing conurbation with extensive public transport and facilities that can easily be accessed by it, or to be self-sufficient centres providing virtually everything their residents need - and with good transport links, including mainline rail to a major city for the rest.

Eco-towns were also meant to be on brown-field sites, but again most of the proposals are for land currently in agricultural use. Most are green field sites in villages in the countyside and even where they are "brown-field", such as former airfields or other military land, are now largely green open space, often under cultivation.

Simply on the ground of car use, all or almost all the proposed sites fail. Most are too small, too remote and without adequate transport links. Building any of them would be guaranteed to result in an increase in private car use. Most of the current proposals appear to be fairly typical commercial developments trying to masquerade as eco-towns to get round planning restrictions.

The government needs to think again about what would constitute genuinely green eco-development and search for new sites. Most suitable sites would probably be in or on the edges of existing large towns and cities, linking in to the existing public transport systems. The current concept of eco-towns needs to learn from the post-war 'new towns' rather than repeating their mistakes (and I lived and worked in one) and I'm certainly not alone in suggesting that some rethinking is needed. Richard Rogers recently called it "one of the biggest mistakes the government can make" and said "They are in no way environmentally sustainable".

In fact Rogers has already at government request done the necessary thinking. In 1998 the government invited him to chair the Urban Task Force, and then seems to have ignored the report this published in 2005. As it recommended, we need to create high-density developments around a high-frequency and efficient public transport system.

If the government are short of ideas, I can identify one prime site ripe for eco-development, a huge acreage (1200 hectares) around 12 miles to the west of London. Most of its land area is currently underused, although there are a few strips of concrete that would need to be dealt with. It already has good road and motorway links, several underground stations and a currently underused (and overpriced) rail link, and would be suitable for a sizeable development, probably more homes than the proposed 10 eco-towns on a single site. Its redevelopment would also be accompanied by a huge environmental gain from cessation of current use. There seems little doubt that Heathrow is the country's most suitable site for an eco-city development.
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60 Years of Israel

Trafalgar Square, London. Sunday 29 June 2008

Celebrations in Trafalgar Square

Palestinians see it as 60 years of ethnic cleansing and a shrinking country as Israel takes more and more Palestinian land.
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There have been many things about Israel that I've admired over the years, but equally I find their treatment of the Palestinians indefensible, whereas some people seem to have an attitude that leaps to support Israel whatever it does. Having seen what has happened in Northern Ireland and South Africa the impossible does sometimes come about, and I hope it may in the Middle East.

As the parade came into Trafalgar Square it passed by a group of people with the banner 'Remembrance - Zochrot'. This Israeli Jewish organisation was founded in 2002 to educated Israeli Jews about the catastrophe (al-Nakba) for the Palestinians of 1947-8, when over 400 Palestinian villages were destroyed. They held placards with the names of the villages and stood largely in silence as the parade passed by. While I watched several people left the parade to harangue them and wave Israeli flags in their faces.

It left a nasty taste as I went to photograph the people celebrating in Trafalgar Square. Later I photographed another group protesting on the side of the square pointing out that for Palestinians the sixty years had meant an increasing loss of their land through both military actions and settlements, as well as a loss in liberty. The police had kept them well apart from the celebrations, across the road in a pen in font of South Africa House. When some pro-Palestine demonstrators put their banner on the walls overlooking the square they were rapidly surrounded by Jewish security guards, who then called the police. They were then told they could protest with the other demonstrators across the road - but if they continued to do so on this side would be arrested. Given the circumstances, the police policy of separating the two groups seemed rather sensible.

Later a number of people with Israeli flags came across to argue with the demonstrators, and those who were clearly trying to provoke them, particularly by waving Israeli flags in their faces, were soon asked to move away by the police. One man in a group asked to move saw a photographer taking his picture and approached in a very threatening manner, shouting and pushing his finger in front of his face, and I thought the photographer was about to be physically assaulted and ran up to them to try and prevent this. The man at that point began accusing the the photographer of being a paedophile on the ridiculous basis that some of the other troublemakers in the group were his teenage sons.

I also took pictures of this man and the youths concerned, but went away with the other photographer after a short conversation with the police who politely requested we do so to allow them to sort things out.

Of course I met many nice people who were having a good day out, but it is the others who stick in the mind. But I also hope that after 60 years the state of Israel will soon be ready for peace and justice for the Palestinians.
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Exhibitions & South Bank

London, Thursday 26 June, 2008

The only good kind of car in London
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I came back to the West End via a number of photo exhibitions (I'll review some on >Re:PHOTO in due course.)

First stop was Bethnal Green, where as well as seeing Tom Hunter's work in the Museum of Childhood I also photographed some graffiti.

Then to Farringdon, to catch Don McPhee's show at the Guardian Newsroom before it closed. Good, straightforward newspaper photography which I enjoyed.

From there a bus took me over Waterloo Bridge to the National Theatre, where there was an interesting display of the 'Pitman Painters', notably Oliver Kilbourn, work that came from a WEA class started in Ashington in the 1930s and continued until the rent on their shed got put up in the 1980s. Outside were giant photographs from high places in London, part of a display for the London Architecture festival, but what interested me most was the views from the terrace, particularly with the addition of a giant sphere for the current Hayward show. The photos were also interesting in their way.

The underground took me to Leicester Square for the Photographers' Gallery, with a show of work by some of the best students of the year, and then it was time for a drink before making my way to Exit gallery for the opening of 'A Looking Glass Eye' in which several friends had work.
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Olympic Site and Stratford Update

Stratford, London, Thursday 26 June, 2008
Access from the Greenway to the stadium site
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As always the Greenway is looking very green at this time of year, with lush vegetation and some colourful wild flowers. Beyond it work progresses on the Olympic site, as well as other developments around the edge of the site.

On Warton House, it was disturbing to see that the Yardley's lavender girl was covered by an ugly poster, hopefully just to protect it during building work.
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Jubilee Debt Campaign London - Giant Paper Chain

Westminster, London, Thursday 26 June, 2008
Gareth Thomas talks to some of the Jubilee Debt Campaign activists
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Last month in Birmingham, we celebrated the 10th anniversary of the G8 human chain around the city centre there.

As a part of the celebration we signed paper links with 'Drop the Debt' on them in English and Japanese to make up paper chains, and these were used in the final demonstration outside.

In advance of the G8 meeting in Japan, the Jubilee Debt Campaign asked for 20 London supporters to meet in Parliament Square, where the plan was to form a giant white paper chain, several hundred metres long before taking it to the Department for International Development to hand over to Development Minister Gareth Thomas.

Unfortunately the protesters were not allowed to stretch out the chain in Parliament Square, as although they had police permission for the demonstration, nobody had thought to ask Westminster Council, and their 'heritage wardens' called in the police to stop the event taking place.

I'd managed to miss the start of the event, and caught up with the group as it was carrying the large plastic bags full of paper chains to the Department for International Development in Palace St. There Development Minister Gareth Thomas came out to talk to the group and took both a poster about the 10,060 signed links and also arranged for his staff to deal with the bags of links.
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Empire Windrush - 60th Anniversary

Clapham Common, London. Sunday

Children listen to Four Kornerz and the Churchboyz

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Sixty years ago today, on June 22, 1948, the SS Empire Windrush docked at Tilbury, bringing 492 Caribbeans - many of who had served in the British armed forces during the war from Jamaica to start a new life in England. They paid £28 10s (£28.50) for the passage. (The ship, originally a German cruise liner, then a troop ship, sank near Algiers in 1954.) They were the first large group of settlers from the Empire to come to live in the 'Mother Country'.

Many of them who were without relatives or funds were given temporary housing in the Clapham South deep level shelter on the edge of Clapham Common, one of eight deep-level air-raid shelters that had were built in 1940-42 for government use. Clapham Common, along with five others was opened for use as a public shelter in 1944.

The nearest labour exchange was a fairly short walk away in Coldharbour Lane, Brixton, and this area soon became the home of the Caribbean community in England.

One of several events round the country to celebrate the sixtieth anniversary was organised by Christian Aid, together with the Windrush Trust and Churches Together in South London at the bandstand in the centre of Clapham Common.

A small group, including the Bishop of Woolwich, had earlier gathered at the shelter at Clapham South and walked from there to the event. After a short introduction reminding us of the arrival of the Windrush and the great contribution that Caribbean community has made to life in this country, the Bishop, representing Churches Together in South London, opened the event with prayers.

We were then entertained by some powerful gospel music from Four Kornerz and the Churchboyz, representing a very different and much livelier tradition of worship that was brought from the Caribbean.

David Isherwood, Rector of Holy Trinity, Clapham, speaking for Churches Together in Clapham, reminded us of the history of the area, with William Wilberforce and the Clapham sect at Holy Trinity, Clapham making an important landmark in the continuing fight against slavery with the Act that abolished the British slave trade in 1807. (See the Clapham Commemoration Walk, Brixton Commemoration and the Anglican ‘Walk of Witness’ in My London Diary)

Organiser Ken Fuller of Christian Aid gave some details about the arrival of the Windrush. Mark Sturge, former director of African Caribbean Evangelical Alliance, talked about the contribution black majority churches had made in the UK. Black immigrants were faced with discrimination at almost every turn, with notices “No Blacks, No Irish, No dogs” and other insults. Many came from religious backgrounds and turned to the churches, but also found there that they were seldom welcome. They became the pioneers of black-led churches, which provided an important support, not just religion, but also in education and other areas of life, helping them to face up to and fight against discrimination.

Jacqueline Walker, who arrived in Britain as a young child a few years later in 1959, gave us an insight into what arriving in the country felt like, with readings from her book 'Pilgrim State'.

Other events in this celebration which I didn’t attend included a service in Holy Trinity, Clapham in the morning and a documentary there after the event in the park.
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Orchid-Star Plays Parliament Square - People's Commons

Parliament Square, London. Sunday 22 June, 2008

South London-based world fusion band Orchid-Star came to play in Parliament Square as a part of the regular protest there on Sunday afternoons - why go to Glastonbury?

Unfortunately I didn't have time to stop and listen to them as I was on my way to another event. So this time there are no more pictures.

No to US Missile Defence - Support Czech Hunger Strike

Downing St, Whitehall, London. Sunday 22 June, 2008

Pat Arrowsmith and Kate Hudson
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Opposite Downing Street in Whitehall CND were holding a vigil and fast to support Czech hunger strikers who - like 70% of the Czech people - oppose the building of an American radar base near Prague - part of the US Missile Defence system.

The Czech government still has to get the support of their parliament for the base, and it comes before them in a few weeks time.

I arrived too late to hear the speeches but was able to photograph those who were taking part in an all-day fast in support, including some well-known peace campaigners.
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40th Rathayatra Chariot Festival in London

Hyde Park to Trafalgar Square. Sunday 22 June, 2008

Jagannatha came on the back seat of a car
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This was the 40th Rathayatra Chariots Festival in London, and over the years it has grown to be a very large event, with more than a thousand devotees pulling the three giant chariots through the streets from Hyde Park to Trafalgar Square, chanting Hare Krishna and dancing. In the square the festival continues with vegetarian feasting, displays and performances.

Rathayatra started at the Jagannatha temple in Puri, Orissa on the Indian east coast, which was built around a thousand years ago, though the festival may be older. It celebrates the time when Krishna grew up on earth and when he became a great lord moved away from his childhood friends. These cowherds visited him and tried to kidnap him and take him back to their village on a cart.

Three deities are worshipped in the temple at Puri, and each is carried on a chariot. They are Krishna in the form of Jagannatha, his half-sister Subhadra, and Balarama her brother.

Jagannath means 'Master of the Universe' and his name and the chariots in the festival give us the word "juggernaut".

The chariot festival first came to the west to San Francisco in 1967, and was brought to London by a small group of disciples from the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (better known as the Hare Krishna) two years later. An effigy of the founder of ISKCON, A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada (1896-1977) is also carried on one of the chariots in the festival.

When the chariots had left Hyde Park I went to have a quick look at the displays in Trafalgar Square before going on to other events.
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Tent City - Stop Deporting Iraqis

Parliament Square. Sat 21 June, 2006

Things were calm and peaceful in Parliament Square - but we are still fighting a war in Iraq
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Voices UK organised a 24-hour 'Tent City' starting at noon on 21 June, Midsummer Day to protest against the deportation of refugees from Britain to war-torn Iraq. They planned it as an illegal demonstration in Parliament Square, at the centre of the SOCPA restricted zone.

On 17 June Voices UK receceived an e-mail from PC Roger Smith with the subject line "Tent City Demonstration" which contained a surprising statement:

"I would like to inform you that an application has been received for this demonstration and it will be duly authorised"

Voices UK had of course made no such application. Someone has decided to make an application on their behalf - and the most likely candidate appears to be the police themselves. Perhaps after their widely publicised over-reaction to the demonstration during the Bush visit they wish to avoid any trouble with demonstrators.

So the 'Tent City' was legal under SOCPA, although still in breach of Westminster City Council byelaws, and a couple of their heritage wardens came and gave out letters to the protesters (and apparently PC Smith came with them.)

Iraq is still at war, with fighting between different factions as well as with the occupying US and British forces. Even in the more settled areas of the country - such as the largely Kurdish north - many will still be at risk of their life if they return (Kurds demonstrated at the home office against forced removal in April, after some were flown back even though they came from areas where there is still fighting.)
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Manor Gardening Society - New Allotments

Marsh Lane, Leyton. Sat 21 June, 2006

Sitting on their plot - but so much bare earth and stunted plants
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It's interesting that arguably the most important story related to the London 2012 Olympics is nothing about athletes or even cost overruns, but about some allotments. They presented the opportunity for the Olympics to show a real committment to green ideas - and of course they blew it.

London in 1948 did really put the modern Olympics back on course, and it did so on vision and a shoestring - and even ended up making a profit. 2012 will be different in every respect. A commitment to corporate profit at high cost to the public purse appears to be the only vision on display, and a legacy of debt and environmental disaster seem to be the most likely outcomes.

Manor Gardens is perhaps a portent of how things will turn out. The allotments were moved - after a struggle - to take over common land at Leyton. At a high cost - I think £1.8m - but an incredibly botched job.

Soil from the Olympic site was taken to Leyton for the allotments, but was heat-treated to kill weeds. I felt a handful of it, and it didn't feel like a good soil should, more a mineral than a good organic feel. Healthy soil is full of life - and as well as killing weed the treatment has killed off the microorganisms it needs, as well as larger creatures such as worms.

Worse still, the soil was badly laid, with the part of the site nearer the road being heavily compacted by machinery, resulting in an almost total lack of drainage. When it rains, it gets waterlogged - and there were still sticky patches and puddles when I walked round.

So long as it is uncontaminated, soil will eventually recover, especially if it is dug and manured and suitable crops are grown. Gardeners have made remarkable progress already on some of the least-damaged plots at the far end of the site, although the healthiest looking plants I saw were in grow-bags. On many plots there were spindly, stunted plants that were going a sickly yellow. I hope it is only a problem with drainage.

Some remedial work has been promised, breaking up the earth and improving the drainage - and I hope it will help. But the problems could have been avoided by finding a better source of top-soil and using contractors who knew what they were doing.

Of course it doesn't look like the old Manor Gardens - more like some kind of prison camp, but I was pleased to see again many of those from the old site, making a good job of getting things growing again. One thing that hadn't changed was the community spirit and the welcome - and the splendid salad and other food.

It is of course only a temporary home - and by the time the gardeners have made it ship-shape it will probably be time to shift again. The legacy plans so far make it seem rather likely that they will once more be shafted. Allotments don't make anyone big profits, nor do they carry huge votes.
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Stop the Fascist BNP - LMHR/UAF

Tooley St - Trafalgar Square. Sat 21 June, 2006

Stop the BNP, No Racism in my Community
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Saturday's Love Music Hate Racism/Unite Against Fascism "Stop the Fascist BNP" march turned out to be something of a damp squib, although a fairly colourful one as 2-3000 turned up to march from Tooley Street to Trafalgar Square.

Of course a bigger march would have been better, would have presented a more positive impression, but was perhaps just about large enough not to be pathetic.

The fight against racism is essentially a cultural one, and popular music is an important place for stating views and forming ideas. So LMHR is I think a vital movement.

Marches have been discredited by the failure of 'Stop the War' to capitalise on the mass following it gained, and think beyond the march when getting millions on the streets was disregarded. There was certainly a little of the same dead hand visible in this event, which lacked the kind of joy and freedom that I think is vital to attract the audience at which it was aimed.

It was a real shame there wasn't more music on the march - I only saw one small marching band - and more happening at the start of theUAF event - with the one band present being restricted to a single number. And I was frankly appalled by the attitudes of the stewards towards photographers, almost as if the event was trying to hide from publicity. I've had less hassle when photographing the BNP.

I'd probably not have bothered to continue on to Trafalgar Square even if I hadn't wanted to go elsewhere.
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World Naked Bike Ride, London 2008

Hyde Park etc, London. Saturday 14 June, 2008

The Naked Bike Ride going over Westminster Bridge
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I wasn't sure if I wanted to photograph Saturday's World Naked Bike Ride in London again. But it is in sevral ways an interesting event, although as in previous years while bodies are very much on display environmental messages seemed at times to be rather well-hidden, leaving many of the public along the route bemused.

The young women standing next to me at the start weren't commenting on the state of the planet or the strangulating grip of car culture but that they had never seen so many penises before, glorious in their diversity. We speculated briefly on whether the ride showed a greater proportion of circumcsion than among the general public and if so why that should be and other major issues.

Later I was in the middle of a group of young men who loudly expressed the view that the whole event was "f**king out of order, innit" and that it should not be allowed, but most of the people standing around me as I photographed seemed startled but generally amused by the ride, even if few realised what it was about.

According to the web site, it is a "peaceful, imaginative and fun protest against oil dependency and car culture. A celebration of the bicycle and also a celebration of the power and individuality of the human body. A symbol of the vulnerability of the cyclist in traffic."

I don't know how many cyclists took part - it seemed roughly the same size as in previous years, and my guess would be a thousand or two. Cyclists take up quite a bit of road space compared to marchers, so it is certainly more impressive than a march with the same number of people, and of course the bared flesh greatly adds to the impact.
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Free Political Prisoners - Break the Chains

Trafalgar Square, London. Saturday 14 June, 2008

Kurds call for the release of their leader, Abdullah Ocalan from a Turkish jail
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Demonstrators outside South Africa House called for the release of political prisoners held in prisons around the world, including the Miami Five, Cubans held for disrupting the terrorist raids by right-wing Cuban exiles on Cuba, Ocalan, held as a terrorist in Turkey, prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, refugees and asylum seekers locked in British dentention centres and others.
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Hampton & Hampton Hill 30th Anniversary Parade

Hampton Hill, London. Saturday 14 June, 2008

The rabbit watches bemused as a gardener attempts to make a woman in a wheelbarrow levitate?
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It was the 30th annual Hampton Hill & Hampton Carnival Parade, but it turned out to be a rather small event.
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Sikh Remembrance March and Freedom Rally

Hyde Park to Whitehall. Sunday 8 June, 2008

The march starts from Hyde Park
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Sikhs gathered in London to remember the massacres of 1984 at Amritsar and to call for the establishment of an independent Sikh homeland, Khalistan. I recognised a number of figures from previous years I've photographed the event, and as usual I was warmly welcomed by many of those taking part (and thanks to those who've e-mailed in previous years.)

There did seem to be rather fewer taking part than in previous years, perhaps in part because there was to be no rally at the end of the March, with Trafalgar Square being occupied by a rather boring Korean tourism advertising event.
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Portugal Day in Kennington Park

Kennington Park, Kennington,London. Sun 8 June, 2005

The celebrations started with an open-air Catholic mass
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Also known as Camões Day, Portugal's National Day marks the anniversary of the death of its greatest poet and writer, Luís de Camões, on 10 June, 1580. His great work, the Lusiads is an epic poem about the colonising explorations that brought the country great wealth. Camões himself was an adventurer who lost one eye fighting in the then Portuguese town on the north African coast opposite Gibralter and is reputed to have saved the Lusiad when he was shipwrecked off Vietnam by swimming ashore holding it one hand clear of the water. The poem made him a symbol of the nation.

He died in the year tha Portugal became part of Spain. The date of his death (the day of his birth around 1624 is not recorded) was celebrated as a national day after Portugal regained independence in 1640.

Under the rule of the fascist Salazar, it became a day of celebration of the fictional Portuguese 'race', but since then it has become a day to celebrate Portuguese communities around the world.

In London, there is a large festival in Kennington Park, with entertainments but mainly considerable eating and drinking. Stockwell, close the the park, has the largest Portuguese community outside Portugal. I photographed the open-air Catholic mass which started the day.
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Lord Muruga in Thornton Heath

Thornton Road/London Road, Thornton Heath. Sun 8 June, 2005
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The Lord Muruga is a Hindu God popular particularly with the Tamils of southeast India (Tamil Nadu), Sri Lanka and Malaysia. On Sunday a hundred or two worshippers from the Sivaskanthagiri Murugan Temple in Thornton Heath pulled a chariot carrying the statue of the deity through the local streets.

The procession was led by musicians, and by women carrying pots of burning embers on their heads and in their arms. As the chariot made its way along the street, people brought offerings of good to be blessed, and these were returned to them flaming.

Lord Muruga is the son of Agni, the fire god. He also carries a spear and a staff with a picture of a cockerel, and rides on a peacock. He is noted for the help that he gives for devotees who are in distress and the procession in particular visits those who cannot come to the temple because of their poor health or other disabilities.
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Peace Strike - Parliament Square

Parliament Square, London. Saturday 7 June, 2008
Maria Gallastegui explains about the Peace Strike
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I left the Adventist marchers at Parliament Square and went to see the peace protesters there, and one of the regular Peace Strike events - which take place every two weeks on Saturdays and on the third Wednesday of each month, authorised under SOCPA.

The Peace Strike is a call for effective action by withdrawal of labour. Marches didn't stop the war against Iraq, but had there been evidence that large numbers were willing to strike - if only for short periods - it could have been stopped. The Peace Strike aims to build actions not just in the UK but globally which will demonstrate that people are willing to strike for peace and the future of humanity. At the moment they see the possibility of an attack on Iran as a major threat, with the US building up forces.

Quite a few people - many of them tourists - were sitting in Parliament Square and hearing about the Peace Strike, and some were obviously interested as Maria talked about it. We all enjoyed the playing and singing of singer/songwriter Harry Loco who had come from Holland, and as well as his own songs gave a fine performance of a Dylan number.
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Adventist Youth March against Knives, Guns & Violence

Trafalgar Square- Kennington Park, London. Saturday 7 June, 2008

Pathfinders - an Adventist youth group - wait for the march to start
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The march organised by Seventh Day Adventist Church organisations in central London on Saturday may help to make those who took part and their friends realise the danger of carrying a knife, but the real problem is that those who do so probably regard it as a necessary means of self-defence.

Where the other guy has a knife (or a gun) then, the argument goes, you need one to defend yourself. And while people are getting away with carrying and threatening to use weapons it is perhaps a hard case to answer, although we know that meeting aggression with agression carries a high risk.

Communities need to police themselves more effectively and to cooperate with the police when they cannot deal with situations without them. The problem is one that needs both strong community organisations and sensitive policing. I hope that Boris will be encouraging and putting resources into community organisation in the inner city and not just stepping up policing.
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Release the Cuban 5

Trafalgar Square, London. Saturday 7 June, 2008

The appeal court in Miami last week upheld the convictions of the five Cuban men arrested in 1998 and charged with spying. The Cubans had come to Miami to infiltrate right-wing exile Cuban groups who were launching illegal terrorist actions against Cuba from Miami, and had done so with some success. A retrial was ordered in 2005 because of the extreme prejudice which existed against them in Miami where the trial was held, but that decision was later overturned.

The appeal court also upheld the life sentences against Gerardo Hernandez.
and that of 15 years against Rene Gonzalez, but referred Ramon Labanino, Antonio Guerrero and Fernando Gonzalez for resentencing in Miami.
The five men are considered as heroes in their native Cuba for their attempt to prevent illegal attacks on the country, while the USA refuses to cooperate with countries who want to take legal action against anti-Castro Cuban exiles.

Rock Against the Blockade took part in an international day of protest against the appeal judgements by protesting at the US Embassy in London on Thursday and were in Trafalgar Square on Saturday to raise awareness and collect signatures for a petition.

Carnival Against the Arms Trade - EDO Brighton

Brighton, Sussex. June 4, 2008

Police start to baton rioters outside EDO - but fail to hold the line

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I'd read a number of times about the campaign against arms manufactuer EDO MBM in Brighton, but never attended any of the protests there over more than four years, so I decided it was well beyond time for me to go to the Brighton 'Carnival Against the Arms Trade' organised by 'Smash EDO'.

Police including a camera team were waiting at Brighton Station as I arrived, but there were few visible protesters for them to photograph. A few cyclists gathered for a 'Critical Mass' ride, and I photographed them before and as they set off just before noon, when I walked along to The Level to find the other protesters. By the time the cyclists had arrived there were around 300 demonstrators present and more joined as the march made its way up Lewes Road.

There was a little carnival spirit, with people dressed up and many wearing red as suggested, with red masks much in evidence. Two banners carried at the front of the march by black-hooded anarchists read "Smash the Arms Trade" and "Destroy the Arms Trade", while another stated bluntly "Stop Killing People You F**king Tw*ts" (my asterisks I'm afraid to say.) Rather more to my taste was the small placard in which one young woman pleaded "Please Refrain From Bombing", though perhaps my favourites were the two women urging "Boobs not Bombs" and another with a large lace-fringed red heart, on one side '"Blondes not Bombs" and on the other "Take the toys off the boys". There was also a rather tall grotesque 'Death', and a bicycle-powered tank, as well as many others who had taken considerable trouble over banners, fancy-dress and face-paint. The whole event was powered along by music, in particular from the street band 'Rhythms of Resistance', the sine qua non of any successful street demonstration.

Fitwatch were also very much in evidence, popping up whenever the police photographers lifted a camera to their eyes. Soon the police photographers were on the run, making off as soon as they saw a camera pointing at them being frustrated by Fitwatch - making it tricky to get any pictures of them during the march.

At first the streets were pretty crowded, and reactions to the march seemed mainly positive, with quite a few expressing support of the campaign to close down the factory, which is the UK arm of fast-growing US multinational arms company EDO Corp. According to web sources they are responsible for fuses for Cruise missiles and other technologies used in the illegal US bombing of Iraq and elsewhere, and their bomb-release mechanisms are used in F-16, Hawk Hurricane and Tornado fighter jets. As well as to the US, their products have been supplied to other countries noted for their human rights abuses including Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, Israel and Turkey.

I stopped taking pictures for a while on the Lewes Road just past Brighton University and did a careful headcount of the demonstration as it passed. Although it is never possible to get an exact figure, at that point there were roughly 600 people (exactly as claimed by the march organisers.) Not all went up Home Farm Road, and others left as police attempted to stop the march.

Just after 2.30 I took a look at the fence and the gates at EDO and thought that there was no way protesters could get past them with the number of police present. I went and took a few pictures of the overall scene from a high viewpoint (they show roughly 300 outside EDO, and there were quite a few more further down the road) and then decided it probably wasn't worth hanging around, as it looked like the situation had reached a stalemate, so I left. Later events proved me extremely wrong!

I have no idea how the gates came open. We might think they would be securely locked for an event like this, but some of those present say they just rattled them and they came open. Had the police requested they be left unlocked, perhaps for helath and saftery of some obscure operational reasons? Or was it incompetence or simply poorly made gates or locks?

Much of the policing of the demonstration was also hard to understand. Police used thin lines and barriers that might have stopped a Sunday School outing, but not a determined demonstration of any size, holding reinforcements and the riot police back.

The police's most important duty is to protect people - including demonstrators. The car park outside the factory on Home Farm Rd was not a good place for police to pitch a battle, with a vertical drop of perhaps 50ft to the railway line below protected by only a low barrier to stop cars parking over the edge. Some individual officers clearly realised this, and I was politely given some entirely appropriate safety advice. Of course they also have a duty to protect property and the rights of individuals, including that of peaceful protest.

EDO seemed well-fenced and relatively easy to defend and a protest outside it should have raised no particular problems (though goin on to private property to demonstrate might well be 'aggravated trespass.) So why did things go so wrong? Was it just a lack of planning and forethought along with incompetence at the scene or had a decision been taken at a high level to facilitate a certain amount of disorder and damage?
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Brian Haw - 7 Years

Parliament Square, London. Sunday 2 June, 2008

Brian Haw with visitors
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Brian Haw started his protest in Parliament Square on 2 June, 2001. Seven years later he is still there, despite an Act of Parliament intended to remove him. Still there because the war is still going on, because children are still being killed.
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Fight the Height, Walthamstow

Walthamstow High St, London. Sunday 1 June, 2008

The first two tomatoes hit the St Modwen tower.

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On the blue fence surrounding the still undeveloped Arcade site at the top of Walthamstow High Street, developers St Modwen proudly claim to be "The UK's Leading Regeneration Specialist" but local residents in Walthamstow clearly have a different opinion, and have come together as 'Fight the Height' to oppose their plans.

When demolition took place in 1999, the council announced their intention to put the site to cultural use and benefit the community - a new leisure centre, library and arts centre together with social housing. Instead the proposals by St Modwen appear to be dominated by commercial interest and to have little regard for local needs.

The site is as the east end of Walthamstow's famous street market, the longest in Europe (more like 1.2km than the mile usually claimed), which began in 1885 and attracts shoppers from across London and tourists from around the world as well as being a vital local resource. St Modwen's plans include a large Primark supermarket, which would severely threaten the future of the market and many of the shops along the high street.

Another ingredient is an 18 storey tower block, quite out of scale with the surrounding area, with its terraces of two storey housing and small scale developments. But you can fall out of bed and into Walthamstow Central station, making the flats very marketable to workers in the City (4 trains an hour to Liverpool Street in 17 minutes) or the West End, thanks to the frequent Victoria Line service. Ten more tall blocks are also in council plans for the next station on the line, Blackhorse Road.

Close to the site on Hoe St is the former Walthamstow Granada, opened in 1930 as a "super-cinema" in high Art-Deco style. As well as films, it hosted live performances (by The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly and many more) and is now a Grade II listed building. Carefully converted into a three-screen venue in the 1970s, it became part of the Odeon chain and in 2000 was sold to EMD, finally closing in 2003. A campaign was set up to restore it as a cinema, but the proposed building of a Vue multiplex on the Arcade site would end any chance of this happening.

You can keep in touch with the campaign and find out more about St Modwen and the plans on the 'Fight the Height' and 'Antiscrap' web sites.

Fight the Height supporters were leafletting when I arrived on Sunday morning for the demonstration which began at noon, with characters representing the tower block, Vue cinema and Primark, along with various placards and banners, attracting considerable interest, although Sunday is the one day of the week that the market closes, so the High Street was fairly empty except for the Farmers Market.

Around 12.30 the crowd of about a hundred people walked from Town Square (a regenerated area that already seems to need some regeneration) across to the Arcade site and the fun began. Market traders had donated several boxes of very ripe tomatoes and kids and adults enjoyed the forceful gesture of throwing these at 'Tower Block', 'Vue' and 'Primark' to robustly demonstrate their opinion of the St Modwen proposals. It was a short but rather messy protest - and one that made the TV London news in the evening.

St Modwen are also the developers for the contested Queens Market scheme at Upton Park, which, if it goes ahead, will mean an end of the thriving and ethnically diverse market there, again by building a supermarket and a tower block. It looks very much like a "one-size fits up all" approach to profit rather than regeneration.
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