No War Against Iran & Syria

US Embassy, London. Sat 28 Jan 2012

Free Iran supporters clash with stewards at the protest

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Stop the War's Protest at the US Embassy against sanctions and war on Iran and Syria was disrupted on several occasions when noisy and impassioned heckling led to scuffles with stewards.

Although everyone present at the 'Hands off Iran & Syria' protest was against US or Western Intervention in Iran or Syria, there were some noisy protests which came to a head while Abbas Eddalat of the Campaign Against Sanctions and Military Intervention in Iran was speaking, from protesters representing the Free Iran 'Green Movement'.

Although Stop the War is against war or sanctions against Iran, the protesters wanted to make a clear statement of their opposition to the current Iranian regime with its religious bigotry and persecution. Stop the War stewards reacted by trying to stamp out their expression of opinion, first remonstrating with them and then phyiscally ejecting them from the protest. There were a small number of young supporters of the Khamenhi regime present who joined in, together with rather more who supported Syrian president Asad. Eventually a small and bewildered group of police officers came to try and sort things out and it became very difficult to sort out who was who and what was happening. There were also some Kurds waving a large Iraqi Kurdistan flag.

Eventually the Free Iran protesters were allowed to continue with a protest beside the Stop the War protest and immediately in front of the US Embassy. Their main banner read:

'You Bomb Iran You Have
The Islamic Republic For
Another 50 Years Khamenhi
Is Gagging For A War
'

They continued to protest noisily for some time, and later some of them rejoined the main Stop the War protest. Another small group, Hands Off the People of Iran were also present and handing out leaflets. They are opposed to the war and also want to show solidarity with the people of Iran, but have been refused becoming part of the Stop The War coalition, apparently because of their opposition to the theocratic dictatorship in Iran. As the official Stop the War protest showed, the organisation has favoured links with supporters of the regimes in both Syria and Iran.

At one point police briefly held one young man who was wearing the current Iraqi flag, but soon released him. As I and the other photographers photographed him, one of the police tried to prevent us taking pictures, and said to us "He has a right to privacy", and pushed some photographers away. I told the officer that no such right existed under British law when people were on the public street, but I'd already taken my picture.

Another group of protesters, mainly wearing 'Anonymous' V for Vendetta Guy Fawkes masks protest inside the gardens on the other side of the main Stoe The War protest. They held up a large banner with the message 'Obama Bin Lying!' as well as an 'Anonymous' flag.

Later in the rally it was the turn of the pro-Asad Syrians to start a protest, and again Stop the War stewards tried to stop the free expression of dissent, this time with more success. The red white and black flag with green stars is the official Syrian flag used by supporters of the Asad regime

A good array of speakers including Tony Benn, Lindsey German, John McDonnell and others made a clear case against any Western intervention. There was no clear evidence that Iran was engaged in a weapons program and it has the right to develop nuclear for peaceful purposes. Iran has not attacked other countries for over 200 years and has one one the lowest military spendings of countries in the area. Sanctions are dangerous because they are likely to lead to a war, and any attack would be expensive and almost certainly difficult and probably counter-productive - as we have found both in IOraq and Afghanistan. A war would be politically unpopular here and probably lead to yet greater restrictions on our civil liberties and further demonisation of our Muslim community.

Speakers pointed out the difference in Western reaction to the possible moves towards neculear weapons in Iran and the lack of any reaction to the Israeli nuclear programme - and unlike Iran, Irael actually possesses nuclear weapons and has never signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Yet there have been no demands from western governments for any sanctions against Israel let alone threats of war.
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Disabled Welfare Reform Road Block

Oxford Circus, London. Saturday 28 Jan 2012

Protesters shout at the officer in charge of the police

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Disabled people protested today at Oxford Circus, chaining wheelchairs together & calling for the dropping of Welfare Reform Bill, urging savings cutting tax evasion by the rich rather than penalising the poor and disabled.

A small group of protesters met at Holborn Station and made there way together with phtoographers and reporters to an undisclosed destination, which turned out to be Oxford Circus. Those unable to use the tube went by taxi, and I met some of them at the taxi drop-off point and went with them to the protest. Shortly befere we arrived, at around noon another group of protesters had lined up a row of wheelchairs across the road and run a chain through them which was locked to posts on each side of the road, and banners and placards were being raised.

There were a few police around, and more arrived shortly, forming a line to stop the protest blocking Oxford St, though a long queue soon formed on Regent St, back as far as the BBC and possibly more. Eventually the police set up diversions to take traffic along different roads around the protest.

The protest proceeded with some noisy chanting against the government's welfare reforms, which will have a devastating affect on many of those present and the poor and disabled generally. Then a woman led a 'human microphone' with the whole protest repeating after her a damning indictment of the policies, explaing clearly to the many workers and shoppers around why this protest was needed.

Later many of those protesting took advantage of the 'open mike' megaphone to speak about the bill and the cuts, some giving examples of what it will mean to them. One woman who will lose her disablement allowance siad it would mean sho would no longer be able to get out of the house and work. Many compared the difference in treatment by the government of the rich, who are allowed to get away with schemes to avoid tax with the shameful crackdown on the poor and disabled, started by the previous government but now severely ratcheted up under the coalition. It was, several said, "clearly class war", and there was considerable applause when one speaker added "If they want class war, they can have it!"

ATOS, the French company that makes a considerable profit from running the computer-based tests of fitness to work that have been condemned even by investigations for the Department of Health came in for particular criticism. Recent press reports have featured cases of terminally ill and clearly unfit people - including a man in a coma - who their test process has passed fit for work.

Some had travelled from as far away as Cornwall and Edinburgh to take part in the action organised by Disabled People Against Cuts, Disabled People’s Direct Action Network and UK Uncut and supported by others including Occupy London. Greater London Pensioners Association, Winvisible, Greater London Pensioners Association, Global Women's Strike and Black Triangle. A number unable to travel supported the action working on-line from their homes, and one protester was holding up a list of seven members of Brighton Disabled People against Cuts who were unable to travel to London.

Despite the obvious anger of the disabled at the cuts which will severely affect their lives, the protest remained well ordered. The police officer in charge walked through the protesters, at first trying to find someone in charge (and of course nobody was) and then talking and joking with the protesters. Later, at 13.23, he read out a statment informing the protesters that they were committing an offence by blocking the road, but most of the protesters made clear that they intended to ignore this. He then came and talked with some of the protesters, and when some told him they would like to continue their protest on the pavement, he brought some constables across to help clear a route through the crowd for them to do so. For a moment it seemed as if police were considering clearing the road by force - a FIT team had arrived and was filming protesters and there were members of the Territorial Support Group with bolt-cutters seen around the corner, and 'bust cards' were handed out the the protesters, but then the mood lightened and the officer in charge seemed more relaxed and I heard him say that he hoped they would leave soon.

500,000 families are expected to lose their homes as a result of the bill, and others will lose the ability to travel outside them. Half a million people, including disabled children, are expected to lose their Disability Living Allowance. More than 3 million will be forced to take the unfair and badly administered tests which have already led to those with terminal illnesses and chronic health problems being certified fit to work and have already pushed some to suicide. Government research has indicated that it will push 100,000 children into poverty.

The protesters point out although the government says the bill is necessary cut the deficit, the savings from it will be far less than than the amounts lost through tax-dodging by the super-rich, and that "bb."

Richard Whitehurst of DPAC said:

“These vicious cuts have already led to at least 31 disabled people committing suicide and many more are now talking about it as they feel they have no future. In the 21st century, in one of the richest nations in the world, disabled people should not be forced to live in fear every day of their lives.

Cuts to disabled people’s benefits and services will not save money but will ultimately cost the taxpayer far more as pushing disabled people into destitution and withdrawing care services will lead to an increased demand for NHS care. With the cap on benefits some single disabled people living in London will be left with only £25 a week to meet all their needs for food, heating and all other costs after paying their rent."

After blocking the road for two hours the protesters unlocked themselves and left at 2pm, a few minutes after I had gone to report on another event.
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Around Trafalgar Square

Westminster, London. Wed 25 Jan 2012


Dramatic red lighting in the fountains

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As the motorcycles and scooters swept under Admiralty Arch on their way to visit Buckinham Palace I walked through Trafalgar Square, stopping to take a few pictures, and then heard sirens and saw police cars and an ambulance speeding towards Northumberland Avenue. I followed them more slowly and went down the road, now closed to traffic. A group of police and paramedics were attending to a person on the road; there were a couple of motorbikes nearby and a pedal cycle abandoned on the road.

I walked on and made my way to Whitehall, where a small group of Syrians were protesting at the continued killing of civilians by government forces in Syria. There was nothing happening, but I stopped briefly on my way to take a picture before making my way across Westminster Bridge.
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Westminster Bikers First Olympic Jubilee Demo Ride

Trafalgar Square, London. Wed 25 Jan 2012

Protesting motorcyclists stop at the lights in Trafalgar Square

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Westminster motorcyclists, incensed by the so-called experimental parking charges for powered two wheelers held another of their regular Wednesday protests around Trafalagar Square as ther 'first Olympic Jubilee Demo ride'.

“No To the Bike Parking Tax” is a non-political action group representing motorcyclists and scooterists who object to the illegitimate introduction of parking levies by Westminster City Council and any other authorities. They demand the total withdrawal of all parking taxes levied on motorcyclists and scooterists and a full refund of all fees paid to date by riders who had no other option but to pay them.

They point out that two-wheeled vehicles have an important role to play in reducing congestion in cities, and their use should be encouraged. They see the impostion of parking charges by Westminster Council as a simple money-making racket. The scheme is described as an expermient, and they want to ensure that it is droppped when Westminster City Council reviews it. The campaign makes the views of riders known through a legal challenge, protests, lobbying, legal direct action and official objections.

Their protest rides are held regularly on Wednesday evenings, with large groups of motorcyclists riding slowly in a pack around Central London, causing some build up of traffic. I watched them riding several times around the gyratory system at the south end of Trafalgar Square before heading off under Admiralty Arch. Protests at the time of the Queen's jubilee and during the Olympics could add to the traffic chaose and gridlock already expected.

Around £90,000 in donations has already been collected to fight the parking charges. Westminster has already had to give way over plans to impose parking charges widely for cars at night, and it seems likely that they will have to do so over the 'Bike Parking Tax.'
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Egyptians Protest Against SCAF

Egyptian Embassy, South St, Mayfair. Wed 25 Jan 2012


Egyptians show solidarity with the protesters in Tahrir Square

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On the first anniversary of the Egyptian revolution, Egyptians in London protested at the embassy in solidarity with the Egyptian people and against the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) and called for the revolution to continue and an end to military rule. London, UK.

Around a hundred people, mainly Egyptians, came to the embassy in London in solidarity with the estimated 300,000 who marched today to Tahrir Square to mark the first anniversary of the Egyptian revolution on 25 Jan 2011. There was some noisy chanting and several speeches, including one from Chris Nuneham of Stop the War.

The speeches called for solidarity with the Egyptian people, but also with the other revolutions of the Arab Spring, and for an end to the Western attempts to enforce an agenda on the Arab nations. In particular there was widespread oppositino voiced to the increasingly likely military action against Iran, and Nuneham and other speakers urged those present to make their feelings on that issue clear at the protest planned for the US Embassy on Saturday.
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Peace For Iran - No To War

Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Whitehall. Wed 25 Jan 2012

Only a handful of protesters turned up today - the big protest is on Saturday
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One of those present lay briefly on the roadway in King Charles St and was threatened with arrest. The protesters shouted noisily at a large group of Norwegian visitors and handed out leaflets to tourists going down the road

Congolese Keep Up Protests

Trafalgar Square, London. Wednesday 25 Jan 2012
The protesters were outside South Africa House, calling on South Africa to put pressure on the Congo regime
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Parliament Square Peace Camp

Parliament Square, London. Wednesday 25 Jan 2012
Barbara tidies up the site expecting a further police raid
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The protest continues despite police harassment. But they didn't want to talk to me about it.

National Gallery on Strike

Trafalgar Square, London. Thursday 19 Jan 2012
PCS members outside the gallery during the lunchtime strike

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PCS members at the National Gallery went on strike for two hours across lunchtime calling on the gallery to employ more gallery assistants. The 15% funding cuts imposed by the government have meant a loss of staff and this has left the gallery understaffed. During the current Leonardo exhibition, some public galleries have been closed because there gallery does not have enough staff to supervise them and keep both public and artworks safe.
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Welfare Reform Bill Lobby at Parliament

Old Palace Yard, Westminster, London. Tuesday 17 Jan 2012
The English Collective of Prostitutes poster: 'Welfare Reform Bill - drives women into destitution + prostitution'.
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Single Mothers’ Self-Defence, WinVisible, Zacchaeus 2000 Trust and others held a vigil outside the Houses of Parliament today while the House of Lords was debating the Welfare Reform Bill, which threatens to deprive around 700,000 disabled people of the money they need to live independently and go to waged work.

As well as the abolition of low-rate Disability Living Allowance which was being debated in the Lords today, the protests are also aimed at stopping the cap on Child Benefit, which has been denounced by the UN children's commisioner as risking "unjustified discrimination" and being a contravention of UN conventions that the government promised to pay regard to.

They also called for proper regulation of the activities of bailiffs used by local authorities to collect council tax arrears, increasing the amounts owed with excessive collection costs on top of court fees with no safeguards for vulnerable debtors.

The protesters also want an end to the hounding of the disabled and others through disfunctional systems used to assess fitness for work, which has led to terminal cancer patients having their benefits stopped and considerable hardship for many other disabled people.

It was a small protest, with only around 20 people present, but many disabled people find it very difficult to travel, particularly in the current cold weather, and some were joining in the protest by making phone calls or sending e-mails from home. Some are afraid to come and make a protest in public as they fear that if they are seen able to protest they will be told they are also fit to work. As well as the organising groups, there were representatives from several other organisations present, including nurses, Global Women's Strike, DPAC (Disabled People Against Cuts) and the English Collective of Prostitutes, whose poster read 'Welfare Reform Bill - drives women into destitution + prostitution'.

Two women held a banner for 'Pat's Petition', started by Mrs Pat Onions, a blind carer who made a long and difficult journey to a rally against the cuts in Edinburgh, knowing that "there were many thousands who couldn't make it. Disability, ill health, provideing care, or cost would prevent them coming." She set up the following petition on the government petitions site (number 20968), open for signature until 01/11/2012:

Stop and review the cuts to benefits and services which are falling disproportionately on disabled people, their carers and families

Responsible department: Department for Work and Pensions

The government were embarking on wholesale reform of the benefit system when the economic crisis struck. These welfare reforms had not been piloted and the plan was to monitor and assess the impact of the new untried approach as it was introduced in a buoyant economy. Unfortunately since then the economy has gone in to crisis and the government has simultaneously embarked on a massive programme of cuts. This has created a perfect storm and left disabled people/those with ill health, and their carers reeling, confused and afraid. We ask the government to stop this massive programme of piecemeal change until they can review the impact of all these changes, taken together, on disabled people and their carers. We ask the government to stand by its duty of care to disabled people and their carers. At the moment the covenant seems to be broken and they do not feel safe. Illness or disability could affect any one of us at any time, while many more of us are potential carers.

The organisers of today's rally say the the Government through this Bill and other measures is going back to Dickensian days, with the caps on housing benefit leading to many families in central London being evicted, the sick and disabled forced to return to work while incapable, and single mothers when their children still need them - as soon as they are one. Those with the greatest need in our society will have their benefits slashed.

The Lords defeated the government in three votes on Jan 11, and the protesters were hopeful that there would be further defeats on other parts of the bill.
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Parliament Square Protests Continue After Police Raid

Parliament Square, Westminster, London. Tuesday 17 Jan 2012
A supporter handing out information in front of the Parliament Square Peace Campaign display
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The late Brian Haw's Parliament Square Peace Campaign was continuing today, Day 3881, despite the police seizure of tents from the square and the arrest of leading campaigner Barbara Tucker last night. The Peace Strike campaign in the square had earlier in the day had an injunction preventing their eviction extended until a hearing in March.

I went to Parliament Square this lunchtime and was able to talk with both Maria Gallastegui of the Peace Strike campaign and one of the regular protesters in the Parliament Square Peace Campaign, who was there in front of the display handing out strips of paper with the web address of the campaign, now at the BrianHaw.tv blog. The pavement looked very empty without the tents, except for a couple for the Peace Strike, along with their two large boxes, but the Peace Campaign poster display was still intact. It has been removed, almost certainly illegally, by police on two occasions during the 3881 days of the protest so far, most recently on 31st August 2011. There were a couple of police at each end of the pavement, with more walking around the area, and at least one police van with officers inside just around the corner.

The repressive Police Reform And Social Responsibility Act 2011 (PASRA) includes provisions intended to stop the loopholes in the earlier Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 (SOCPA) which had been intended to end Brian Haw's campaign but failed to do so. Among other things PASRA makes it a criminal offence to sleep overnight as a part of a protest in the designated area, or to use any amplification equipment. Although the law applies to a smaller area than SOCPA, Westminster Council, the GLA and the Royal Parks are expected, after routine and poorly publicised 'consultation' to enact bylaws which will extend this ban on sleeping across the whole of Westminster, the Royal Parks and Trafalgar Square as well as Parliament Square.

PASRA came into force on Dec 19th, and enforcement letters were sent to both the Peace Campaign and the Peace Strike, and both groups have contested the legality of PASRA and its enforcement. The Peace Campaign argue that they are protected by a High Court ruling of March 17th 2011, which stated that the campaign in its entirety - including the tents was proportionate. They entered a claim with the police on receiving the notice under PASRA, also stating that the PASRA legislation does not commence for existing protests such as theirs until until 30th March 2012.

The Peace Strike obtained a High Court injunction preventing their removal from the square until the court had decided whether Westminster Council had the power to do so. That was supposed to have been settled in court yesterday (16 Jan) but instead it was decided to postpone the case for a proper hearing in the middle of March, with an agreement being reached that the eviction would be delayed until after a court decision.

It had been thought that this stay of eviction would also apply to the other protesters, who also have legal cases outstanding, but that was not the case. Ms Gallastegui told me that a dozen or so police vans, police cars, 2 police lorries and an ambulance had arrived around 7.30pm and had removed the tents, sleeping bags and other equipment including megaphones despite the protests by those present, including a group from Occupy London. Two people from Occupy London apparently tried to put up another tent and were arrested, and police tried to move people on from the square. They were still there until the early morning, and according to the Peace Campaign member Barbara Tucker was arrested around 3 am on Tuesday morning for obstructing the police. He told me she was still being held in Charing Cross police station at 1pm, although it was thought likely she would soon be released.

You can read Barbara Tucker's account on the BrianHaw.tv blog, in which she states that police refused her bail and took her "to City of Westminster Magistrates Court where a trial was set for June 1st 2012. I was released around 5.30pm and returned later to the square."
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Arbaeen Procession in London

Marble Arch & Park Lane, London. Sunday 15 January 2012

The cradle commemorating Imam Husain's murdered baby son and people at prayer before the procession.

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Around 5000 Muslims in London held their 31st annual Arbaeen procession, organised by the Hussaini Islamic Trust UK, going along Park Lane with colourful flags, large gold and silver replica shrines and beating their breasts as a symbol of mourning for Imam Husain.

Around 5000 Shi'ite Muslims held their 31st Arbaeen procession in London today commemorating the sacrifice made by the grandson of Mohammed, Imam Husain, killed with his family and companions at Kerbala in 680AD. Arbaeen takes place 40 days after Ashura, the day commemorating the martyrdom and marks the end of the traditional 40 days of mourning. After prayers and recitations at Marble Arch they paraded along Park Lane in a ceremony of mourning.

Imam Husain is seen by Shia Muslims as making a great stand against the oppression of a tyrant and representing the forces of good against evil. Husain and his small group of supporters were hugely outnumbered but chose to fight to the death for their beliefs rather than to compromise. Their stand is a symbol of freedom and dignity, and an aspiration to people and nations to strive for freedom, justice and equality. Among many who have admired the stand taken by Husain are Ghandi, Charles Dickens and historians Edward Gibbon and Thomas Carlyle

Arbaeen is also said to commemorate the return of the wives and families of those killed - who were marched away as captives to Damascus after the massacre - back to Kerbala mourn the dead after their release the following year.

Millions now attend the annual Arbaeen event in Kerbala though it was banned while Saddam Hussein was in power. The Hussaini Islamic Trust UK first organised this annual procession since 1982, making it the oldest Arbaeen/Chelum Procession of Imam Husain in the west. It was the first annual Muslim procession in Central London and is still one of the larger annual Muslim processions in the UK. It is held on the Sunday closest to Arbaeen and attracts Muslims from all over the UK.

Today's procession included three large gold and silver replicas of the shrines of Karbala; known as Shabbih, they are over 10 feet high and the largest in Europe. There was also a decorated and blood-stained white horse or Zuljana representing the horse of Imam Husain, a cradle remembering his 6 month old child Hazrat Ali Asghar who was also murdered and a ceremonial coffin. Throughout the event there were people coming up to revere these, laying their hands and sometimes their faces on them

The day started at Marble Arch with prayers and recitation which were followed by speeches and chanting before the procession set off. This continued as the procession made its way down Park Lane. Most of those taking part beat their chests as a token of mourning in a symbolic rather manner, but as the procession made its way down the road some of the men became very physical, and a few soon stripped to the waist and beating themselves with enough vigorour to produce swollen red areas of skin and in a few cases some slight bleeding.

The women marched in a tightly packed separate group at the rear of the march, held back by a number of women stewards behind the last of the three Shabbih. Like the men they chanted and made gestures of mourning. Although they were almost all dressed in black, many of them were carrying standards and flags, and some had some brightly coloured embroidery and headscarves.

The procession made its way down Park Lane for around half a mile along one lane of the south-bound carriageway, then turned into the north-bound road to make its way back to Marble Arch, but I left them at the turning point.
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EDL March in Barking

Barking, London. Saturday 14 January 2012

EDL supporters play up for photographers outside the pub before the march.
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Around 200 EDL supporters marched from Barking Station to a rally outside the town hall, calling for an end to Islamic influence in England. Their protest was opposed by a smaller group of UAF supporters.

Groups of EDL supporters were gathering outside the 'The Barking Dog' pub close to the station an hour and a half before the march was due to begin. A neighbouring pub had decided to close rather than serve them, and a large police presence stood around watching them, together with quite a few journalists. Many of them wore various high-viz jackets denoting them as members of the EDL Stewards Team, although there was little need for stewards with so many police around.

This was the EDL's first march of 2012, organised by the Essex and Dagenham Divisions of the English Defence League, and their leaflet says they are 'Peacefully Protesting Against Militant Islam' and that the EDL "opposes radical Islam and sharia law" as well as being against "Al Qaeda both home and abroad." The flyer goes on to state: "We are NOT against Islam, nor are we against muslims. It is only the more extreme sections of this community that we oppose. It is similar to saying we are against the Spanish Inquisition but have no problem with Catholicism." The Essex groups were joined by others from around the south of England, as well as some other groups including March For England.

As the time for the march approached, the crowd grew a little larger, both with more people arriving and others emerging from the pub and a number of chants and songs began, including 'EDL, EDL, EDL', 'England till I die', 'We're the famous EDL' and 'Keep St George in my heart, keep me English' ending with 'No surrender, no surrender, no surrender to the Taliban', as well as 'Muslim bombers off our streets' and Muslim pedos off our streets'. Later on the march they also sang the national anthem, and several other chants.

One small group who began an offensive chant about Allah were quickly stopped by others, although many may find their other chants singling out Muslims as bombers and 'pedos' also offensive; most of us are equally opposed to bombers and paedophiles from all groups of society, including both Muslims and right-wing extremists. Although the EDL are always at pains to state they are not racist and not opposed to Muslims, but only against Muslim extremists and extremism, songs such as this and some other actions by supporters often suggest otherwise, and a number of the better-known supporters are former members of racist organisations such as the National Front or BNP.

They also seem to have a rather general emphasis against mosques, which are generally not extremist, just as the vast majority of our Muslim population are not extremist. Many of the activities that EDL supporters have engaged in on the streets seem likely antagonise moderate Muslims and to encourage extremism among Muslims rather than to gain the support of moderates in the Muslim community and the majority of the British people.

A few hundred yards into their short march they passed a group of around 50 counter-protesters, mainly from the local area, organised at short notice by UAF (Unite Against Fascism) who appear only to have noticed that this EDL protest was taking place late on Thursday. On their web site they describe the EDL as "an organisation of racist and fascist thugs, who particularly target Muslims" and described the march through Barking as "as part of its attempts to stir up racism and division in the area."

The UAF held up placards and chanted loudly 'Racist Scum', Fascist Scum', calling the EDL' Nazis' and suggesting that they follow the example of their leader, Adolph Hitler, and commit suicide. Both sides accuse the other of being racist, and both were shouting "Whose streets? Our Streets", with the UAF claiming to represent local people, while the EDL clearly had the advantage of numbers; fortunately a strong police presence prevented any real conflicts.

A little way down the street, an argument developed between a few on the EDL march and a young Muslim man on the pavement, and some shouted telling him to "go back home." He shouted back that he had been born here and was as English as they were, this was his home. The EDL also shouted at the UAF protesters - who looked a fairly typical London crowd - "you're not English any more", a taunt they seem to direct at anyone who fails to agree with their views.

Many of us, including probably the great majority of British Muslims, would agree with the EDL in not wanting Sharia law in this country, and would also support our soldiers even if opposing our current wars. But there are some things I find it impossible to get worked up about such as the increasing prevalence of Halal foods. The only objection I would have to Halal (or Kosher) meat is on grounds of possible cruelty to animals, and I think that our laws cover that both for these methods and our more industrial slaughter practices.

Outside Barking town hall, there were two pens at opposite ends of the large square. At one end was a larger pen for the couple of hundred EDL, surrounded by police, and at the other a smaller area behind barriers for the UAF. There were probably a few more than fifty UAF supporters, although a number of locals who saw the protest came and joined them for some time, and around a hundred police in the square to keep the two sides apart. The two groups were within shouting distance of each other, and kept that up for most of the next hour and a half, with the UAF waving placards and the EDL making V signs and other gestures towards them.

The EDL had problems getting their public address system going, but eventually it was working and they were able to play a little music, and later there were a few speeches. One speaker began by making a comment about the recent trial of Stephen Lawrence's murderers, denouncing all attacks on grounds of race, and saying how the EDL were pleased to see "racist scumbags" such as his killers locked away, as well as hoping that the other gang members would also be tried, found guilty and banged up.

This statement enraged many of the UAF supporters, who felt it was entirely hypocritical, as they regard the EDL as exactly the kind of racists who would carry out such attacks or encourage others to do so. They were further incensed when the speaker went on to compare the vast input of resources to get a verdict in this case with the failure to bring anyone to justice for many racially motivated crimes against white people, saying that this illustrated that the law was not, as it should be, colour-blind.

My attention was soon drawn away from the speeches as there was a commotion at the opposite end of the square, and I saw from a distance police leading away a couple of men, apparently EDL supporters who had approached the UAF barrier. A short time later, just to one side of the square at the same end, I noticed that police had stopped and were talking to two men, and I watched as they closely searched one of them. The other was Stephen Yaxley-Lennon (aka Tommy Robinson) who seemed to be showing little if any sign of the injuries recently inflicted on him although it had previously been announced that he was not sufficiently recovered from the attack by "islamofascist thugs" to speak at the rally. (Some extreme-right sources have blamed his injuries on a group of Luton Town football hooligans with which he is associated.) After talking to the police for some minutes, Yaxley-Lennon was escorted out of the area by police, and he appeared to be leaving freely. Later I was told he had asked to be escorted to his vehicle.

Shortly afterwards the rally ended and again surrounded by police, a now slightly smaller group of EDL supporters made its way back towards the station, where I left them and caught a train home. Later I heard that there had been some minor clashed with local youths as the march ended. One group from the march apparently went on to Whitechapel and had to be escorted out of the area by police for their own safety.
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Bikes Alive - End Killing Of Cyclists

Kings Cross, London.Monday 9 Jan 2012

Waiting outside Kings Cross for the protest to start.

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Around 150 cyclists and a smaller number of pedestrians demonstrated at Kings Cross in the evening rush hour calling for an end to the killing of cyclists on city roads.

The protest was organised by a new campaign group, Bikes Alive, which wants changes in policy by Transport In London, because too many cyclists are being killed on our streets. They wanted to take some more definite direct action than previous protests that were polite and symboic and decided to try to block one of London's most public and visited junctions at Kings Cross.

Bikes Alive argue that it is time to re-balance road usge to prioritise people over machines - which will mean slowing down traffic in the city in various ways. In particular they call for changes at major road junctions with longer gaps between different phases that would allow both pedestrians and cyclists to clear junctions before traffic from other directions dashes across. They want more to be done to discourage journeys by private car inside London.

Kings Cross was chosen as one of the more dangerous junctions in London for cyclists and pedestrians, with one-way systems that are confusing and often difficult for cyclists.

I arrived early for the protest, as a group of friends of cyclist Deep Lee (Min Joo Lee), a 24-year old student who was killed riding her bike there on 3 Oct 2011 came to put fresh flowers on the 'ghost bicycle' which is chained to a lamp post at the centre of the junction.

Gradually cyclists began to arrive for the protest, waiting with their bikes on the wide pavement in front of Kings Cross, along with a dozen or so police officers on bikes and a few others. Among them were Bikes Alive spokesman Albert Beale, who had said that this protest "is the first step in a campaign to stop – by whatever nonviolent means needed – the completely unnecessary level of deaths, injuries and fear inflicted by motorists on the more vulnerable" and Green Party mayoral candidate Jenny Jones who stated "London’s roads must be fixed urgently if we are to make them safe for cyclists and all other road users. This is the Mayor’s responsibility, and I hope that if we make a statement through peaceful, direct action he will start to listen." Also present was Tamsin Omond of Climate Rush, who have organised several cycle protests, including one last year against London's terrible air quality with briefly blocked a junction a little to the west of tonight's protest.

The protest was slow to start, with everyone reluctant to take charge, but eventually people took to the road and began to cycle as a slow mass of around 150 cycles with perhaps 50 more on foot on the roads around the junction, turning up York Road, then going across to the Caledonian Road and down and around the one-way system to return to the Kings Cross junction. Arriving there the group dismounted and blocked the box junction for a few minutes until police came and said they must move. They then made a few more circuits along a short section of the Euston Road in front of Kings Cross, then making a 'U' turn and going back east along the road before again going around the one-way system. By the time they were on their second or third circuit I felt I had seen enough and left.

Although the protest had caused some hold-ups for traffic, there were still buses going along the Euston Rad and I was able to take one to the station.
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Bhopal: Drop Dow From London Olympics

Trafalgar Square, London. Monday 9 Jan 2012

Barry Gardiner holds a bottle of water from Bhopal (B'eau Pal) and invites Lord Coe and Boris for a drink
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With just 200 days to the London Olympics,Farah Edwards, a survivor of the Bhopal Disaster, challenged Lord Coe, and Mayor Boris Johnson, to taste some Bhopal drinking water, bottled as 'B’eauPal' mineral water.

Farah Edwards is a survivor of the Bhopal disaster, when Union Carbide, a subsidiary of Dow Chemicals, released a huge dense cloud of lethal gas from their plant in was released on the night of December 2-3, 1984. The government estimates of the immediate deaths were more than 3,700, and since then the deaths have risen to between 8,000 and 25,000 people. Around 100,000 to 200,000 people are thought to have permanent injuries and the number continues to grow as much of the contamination produced by the disaster has not been cleaned up

Farah's aunt died on April 2, 1987 as a result of the disaster, which not only released tons of toxic gas but in dealing with the incident Union Carbide also recklessly dumped many other highly toxic chemicals which have resulted in highly contaminated groundwater across a very large area.

Union Carbide has always refused to accept full responsibility for the disaster, and continue to fight the case both in Indian and US courts. The company is owned by Dow Chemicals who are one of the sponsors of the London 2012 Olympics.

In front of the Olympic clock in Trafalgar Square, 200 days before the opening, Farah Edwards read the following statement:

I am here today to remind you that only 200 days are left for London to drop Dow Chemical's sponsorship from what is claimed to be the most sustainable Olympics ever

Thousand of families in Bhopal are being poisoned today by water contaminated by Dow Chemical's business.

They have asked me to invite Lord Coe and Mr Johhnson to Bhopaol to drink just a single sip of the water that they themsoleves have to consue every day of their lives.

By allowing Dow Chemical to be a sponsor Lord Coe is encouraging Dow to continue poisoning the unborn.

It is ironic that champion runner Sebastian Coe is helping Dow to run away from its liabilities in Bhopal.

Also speaking in front of the Olympic clock in Trafalgar Square was Barry Gardiner, Labour MP for Brent North and Chair of Labour Friends of India. He held up a bottle of water from Bhopal, bottled for the occasion as a mineral water, 'B'eau Pal' and also invited Lord Coe and London Mayor Boris Johnson to drink some of it, and invited them to go to Bhopal and see the ongoing contamination there with their own eyes. He called for the London Olympic organisers (LOCOG) to drop Dow Chemical Company as a sponsor.

Gardiner had earlier raised the issue of Bhopal at the G20 climate change conference on Bhopal, where a 2 minute silence was held to mark the 27th anniversary of the disaster. The Indian government has supporte the call for Dow to be dropped as a sponsor, asking the Indian Olympic Association to take up the matter with both LOCOG and the International Olympic Committee. It remains possible that India will try to persuade others to join it in a boycott of the London games if Dow remains as a sponsor.

Dow inherited responsibiity for Bhopal when it bought Union Carbide, and has continued with their policies of denial and refusal to accept proper responsibility. But its earlier record during the Vietnam war and arising from it also makes them an unsuitable sponsor for the Olympics.

Dow was a major supplier of napalm used by the US in Vietnam, continuing to supply after all other companies had discontinued production after protests. They were also a major supplier of Agent Orange, a defoliant sprayed by the US over Vietnam, Laos and parts of Cambodia - around 5 million acres in total - in an effort to deprive the guerrillas of food and force the rural population to move to the largely US-dominated cities. It was contaminated with dioxins and Vietnamese estimates are that 400,000 people were killed or seriously maimed and half a million children born deformed because of its use.
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London Mourning Mothers of Iran

Trafalgar Square, London. Saturday 7 Jan 2012

Solidarity with the The Mothers of Laleh Park, Tehran.

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The London Mourning Mothers of Iran stand every first Saturday of the month in Trafalgar Square to show solidarity with the mothers of political prisoners and those murdered by the Islamic Republic of Iran since 1979.

The Mothers of Laleh Park (formerly known as the Mourning Mothers of Iran) are women whose children were killed or imprisoned after the 2009 Iranian election, when the regime began a crackdown on members of the opposition. They have carried out a series of protests in Laleh Park in central Tehran and other locations to bring attention to these injustices.

Those in jail include Parvin Mokhtare, mother of the imprisoned human rights activist Kouhyar Goudarzi, a member of the Committee of Human Rights Reporters who was jailed for a year in December 2009. In November 2010 she sent a message to the National Press Club (USA) who had awarded Gourdazi with their John Auchobon Award for press freedom, thanking them for the award which she dedicated "to the green and great nation of Iran, to Argentinian mothers, Palestinian mothers, patient mothers of Iran, especially the mother of Neda Agha Soltan, mother of Sohrab Arabi, mother of Mohsen Rooholamini, mother of Kianoush Asa, and all mothers of imprisoned, but free-spirited, political prisoners of Iran."

Gourdarzi was arrested again last July, and his mother a few days later. She has been sentenced to 23 months in jail apparently because of media interviews she gave about her son.

Several other members of the mothers group have also been given jail sentences and others threatened and interrogated for calling for the release of political prisoners, the abolition of the death sentence and the trail of those who have ordered the killings of the last 30 years.

Around 20 people, mainly woment, but including some men and children came to the protest in Trafalgar Square today, standing quietly around their display holding posters and giving out postcards about the Mothers of Laleh Park.
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Shut Guantánamo – End 10 Years of Shame

Trafalgar Square, London. Saturday 7 Jan 2012

Among the 'detainees' were some wearing 'Anonymous' masks

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A rally in Trafalgar Square called for the closure of Guantanamo Bay and for the UK Government to step up efforts for the return of Shaker Aamer and former UK resident Ahmed Belbacha.

The rally came on the weekend before the 10th anniversary of the setting up of the illegal US prison camp at in the US military base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba on 11 January 2002. Although President Obama came into office pledging to close the camp down and end the discredited military trials there, he has failed to do so, authorising the continued regime of arbitrary detention without charge or trial. 171 prisoners are still detained there.

Shaker Aamer is among those prisoners who were cleared for release by the US military in 2007, and this was confirmed by Obama’s administration in 2009. He is thought to be still detained as his revelations of torture over his ten years of imprisonment by the US authorities (and on one occasion in the presence of a British intelligence agent) would be embarrassing to the US government. Gordon Brown when Prime Minister unsuccesfully urged the US to release him. Before his detention, his home was in London, where his wife and four children, including a son of almost 10 he has never seen are living in Battersea. There are grave concerns for his physical and mental health due to his imprisonment and illtreatment.

Ahmed Belbacha, an Algerian national who had a residence permit and lived in Bournemouth from 1999 to 2001, was also cleared for release by the US military in 2007. An injunction prevents his return to Algeria where he would probably die. The campaigners want the UK to again offer him a safe home.

Several hundred people came to the rally at Trafalgar Square where there were speeches by Lib Dem Baroness Sarah Ludford MEP, solicitor Louise Christian, Lindsey German of Stop the War, Kate Hudson of CND, journalist Victoria Brittain and others, including student representatives, trade unionists and other activists. Among those taking part were a number of 'Anonymous' protesters in 'V' for Vendetta Guy Fawkes masks who had come from the Occupy London protest camp at St Paul's Cathedral.

The speakers urged both the UK government and the EU to put pressure on the US to close Guantanamo and to either release those still detained or to give them a fair and open trial.

Halfway through the event there was a display by a large number of activists in orange jumpsuits and black hoods as a visual reminder of those still detained. They walked up holding the prison numbers of the 177 prisoners still in Guantanamo, and their numbers were called and their names read out.
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Rally - 53 Years Of Cuban Revolution

Angel, Islington, London. Saturday 7 Jan 2012

The iconic image of Che Guevara and the bookstall at the Angel

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A street rally at the Angel Islington celebrated 53 years of the Cuban revolution with speeches and collection of signatures demanding justice for the Cuban Five before a lecture and social.

The event was organised for Rock around the Blockade by Fight Racism Fight Imperialism, and celebrated the achievement of Cuba in building a socialist country despite the blockade by its powerful neighbour USA.

Around twenty people were spread out on both sides of the busy shopping street handing out leaflets and collecting signatures for a petition calling for the release of the remaining members of the Cuban 5, arrested in 1998 in Miami for gathering information on groups of Cuban refugees who were planning illegal acts against Cuba. Their treatment in US courts has been criticised as unfair by the UN Commisison on Human Rights and by Amnesty International, who also condemned their treatment in jail as "unnecessarily punitive." Eight Nobel prize winners from around the world including Nadine Gordimer, Desmond Tutu, Wole Soyinka and Gunter Grass joined together in calling for their freedom, as well as many other people and groups around the world.

Speeches at the event also called for the US to leave the naval base it illegally occupies at Guantanamo Bay, and to release the prisoners still held there.

Fifty-three years ago Cuba was a poor and corrupt country, its natural resources exploited by foreign companies, its people largely living in poverty with low educational standards and life expectancy. The country now has probably the best health service in the world, low infant mortality and a life expectancy better than many parts of the UK. Free education is provided for all, and soon most will follow it to graduate level.

Cuba provides free medical training for students from many African and South American countries, and also sends many doctors and nurses to work in them. It has made a major contribution to controlling AIDS in Africa.

Cuba is a country which has shown that there is a real alternative to capitalism, and that has provided a healthy and dignified life for its people, improving their condition over more than 50 years.

Between the speeches, Cuban music was played on the sound system. After the street rally, there was to be a lecture and discussion on 'The revolutionary thought of Che Guevara: education and socialism' at a nearby pub, followed by a social. Other Rock around the Blockade events planned to celebrate Cuba's achievements include a fund-raising meal and a classical concert by Cuban musicians on 20 Jan to raise money for sports equipment for Cuban youth, a cause chosen to mark the London 2012 Olympic year.
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All pictures on this section of the site are Copyright © Peter Marshall 2012; to buy prints or for permission to reproduce pictures or to comment on this site, or for any other questions, contact me.

my london diary index
 

January 2012

No War Against Iran & Syria
Disabled Welfare Reform Road Block
Around Trafalgar Square
Westminster Bikers Parking Protest
Egyptians Protest Against SCAF
Peace For Iran - No To War
Congolese Keep Up Protests
Parliament Square Peace Camp
National Gallery on Strike
Welfare Reform Bill Lobby at Parliament
Parliament Square Protests Continue
Arbaeen Procession in London
EDL March in Barking
Bikes Alive - End Killing Of Cyclists
Bhopal: Drop Dow From London Olympics
London Mourning Mothers of Iran
Shut Guantánamo: End 10 Years of Shame
53 Years Of Cuban Revolution

january
february
march
april
may
june
july
august
september
october
november
december

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