TEN thousand people forced the police to retreat from their stated position that a march on parliament would be illegal, and that they would take action to prevent it, when they marched to the House of Commons on Monday afternoon.
Contingents from Penzance to Manchester took part in the demonstration from Trafalgar Square and down Whitehall.
There were many banners, including banners from the CWU postal workers’ union, the UCU university trade union, Stop The War groups, students unions and other organisations.
Students chanted: ‘Occupation is a crime! Free Iraq and Palestine!’, ‘No justice – no peace! Troops out of the Middle East!’ and ‘Whose streets? – Our streets! Whose war? – Their war!’
Other slogans included: ‘Get the troops out now!’ and ‘Gordon Brown – terrorist! George Bush – terrorist!’
The march made its way down Whitehall and past Downing Street, but when it reached Parliament Square lines of police blocked its path.
In a matter of minutes, the police lines opened up and demonstrators streamed towards the Square for a protest opposite the House of Commons, where there were more banners held up, including one that said: ‘Holocaust’.
But several people were arrested in scuffles.
UNISON member Nick Martin, from Nottingham Stop The War Coalition, said: ‘The main reason that really motivated me to come down was when they banned it.
‘It stinks of hypocrisy when they can ban a protest here and talk about inalienable rights to democracy in Burma at the same time.
‘Whatever can be done, including strike action, should be done to get British troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan.’
Dave Marsh, from the University of the Arts students union in London, said: ‘Getting the troops out of Iraq is the most important fault line in British politics and even more so now when they’re clamping down on the right to protest and the right to freedom of speech.
‘Gordon Brown talked about getting rid of the laws brought in by Tony Blair to ban demonstrations from this whole area and now he’s just carrying on with them.’
Zoe Raza, a member of University of Manchester Students Union (UMSU), said: ‘Look at the numbers of people dying every day and nothing is being done.
‘I think there should be more action from the government and parliament.
‘I think it’s a shame and it’s pointing to the direction that they have other interests.
‘It’s becoming very obvious, so they better withdraw soon before the truth really comes out.’
Alex Castro, communications officer at Manchester university students union, said: ‘Students see that the war demonstrates the wrong priorities the government has set.
‘They spent all the money on these enterprises that only harm people, instead of investing money in education for the future of our planet.
‘What we want to signal today is that we don’t want any more money to be spent on war.
‘We want it spent on the benefit of the people of the whole world, not for the rich and the corporations.
‘The students will keep on working on campuses to raise all these issues.’
Bellavia Ribeiro-Addy, a former student from London, said: ‘I don’t believe in the war at all.
‘So many people are dying unnecessarily.
‘We won’t support our government. It’s not listening to the people.
‘Students are seeing their fees going up. The cost of the war has definitely been a drain on the education system.’
At a rally before the march, Andrew Murray from the Stop The War Coalition said the demonstration had been called, firstly, ‘to get the troops out’ of Iraq and Afghanistan and, secondly, ‘to assert our right to peacefully demonstrate’.
To loud cheers, he added: ‘I’m pleased to tell you that in the last half an hour the police have given us permission to march down Whitehall to Parliament Square.’
Elderly peace campaigner Walter Wolfgang – infamously ejected by bouncers from the Labour Party conference – also addressed the rally.
He said: ‘They are trying the same tricks with so-called WMDs in Iran as they did with Iraq. There are no such weapons in Iran.’
American actor Richard Schiff condemned the killing of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis.
He added: ‘We have to raise our voices again: the rest of the world will watch – and millions will follow – to end this illegal, immoral and irrelevant war as soon as possible.’
Quoting a newspaper article, musician Brian Eno said: ‘This government and the American administration thrive on a state of war, it allows them to maintain a constant state of emergency.’
He added: ‘We’ve been conned into an illegal war by shameless propaganda and media manipulation.
‘We’ve moved up to third in the league of weapons exporters behind the United States and Russia.
‘Yet here we are at a demonstration which has been declared illegal.’
Peace campaigner Brian Haw – who has maintained a picket opposite parliament since 2001 – got a huge cheer as he addressed the crowd.
He said: ‘George Brown said: I don’t do war, I just pay for it. What a bloody lie – the people pay for war! The people pay for the £1 million cruise missiles!
‘Six hundred schools were targeted with cruise missiles during the first Gulf War. . . The same arrogance as the Third Reich! Monstrous! Diabolical!
‘Napalm, poison gas, cruise missiles, depleted uranium munitions – our nuclear waste!
‘Come to Parliament Square and you will see the pictures of the children.’
He added: ‘That bloody fence Ken Livingstone has put up must come down! Parliament Square belongs to the people!
‘We must make the peace. Wake up the country. It has to stop now.
‘Not another child, not another day, Nelson Mandela said. It has to stop.’
Kate Hudson, chair of CND, said the laws used to try and ban Monday’s march were ‘the same laws used to try and suppress the Chartists in the last century.’
She added: ‘They’ve had to cave in this morning and allow our protest to go ahead. What a victory for our movement.’
Hudson told the crowd that protesters had also succeeded in closing Lakenheath, the base ‘from where they send cluster bombs to bomb Afghanistan.
‘They closed that base before they were arrested by the police,’ she said.
Tony Benn, president of the Stop The War Coalition, said: ‘We went to war for oil. We tore up the Charter of the United Nations.
‘It is an illegal, immoral and unwinnable war and we have to see it stops and stops now.’
He added: ‘I’ve never known a campaign to come to such a quick conclusion in one respect – the police are going to allow us to march.
‘Think of the guys who gave their lives for the right to march to parliament.
‘Never have any doubt that we’re going to win.’
Labour MP Bob Wareing told the crowd: ‘You represent not only millions of people in Britain, but millions in the United States and throughout the world.’
He said if a majority of MPs had voted against the Iraq war, then 160 British troops, 4,000 American soldiers and hundreds of thousands of Iraqi men, women and children – like those massacred in Fallujah – would still be alive today.
‘Those people who supported the war have blood on their hands,’ he said.
‘An international court should be established to try those people who dragged this country behind Bush.’
Wareing added: ‘We’ve got to continue with our demonstrations because there was a report last week that Gordon Brown has conceded to the Americans we should support air strikes against Iran.’
Lindsay German, convenor of the Stop The War Coalition, said: ‘We have had to fight for the right to demonstrate.
‘In 2003 they told us we couldn’t demonstrate because we would damage the grass!
‘When George Bush came to London we were told we would not be able to march because of security reasons, and we did.
‘We were told that if we marched today, we would prevent MPs going about their business.
‘They have underestimated our movement every single time.’
She said the anti-war movement had predicted that the methods of crowd control and assaults on civil liberties would be used if the wars against Afghanistan and Iraq went ahead.
She said she had been asked in a radio interview if she was willing to go to prison to defend the right to freedom of speech and freedom of assembly.
The whole crowd interrupted her, shouting: ‘Yes, we are!’
‘Keep the people on the streets and let’s pull troops out now,’ she concluded.
Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn told the thousands gathered in Trafalgar Square: ‘Had you not been here, I doubt very much the police would have lifted the ban on today’s march and demonstration.
‘If you don’t demonstrate, if you don’t strike and if you don’t march, then all our civil liberties can be lost as a result of inaction.
‘The anti-terrorist legislation brought in since the start of the war has got progressively worse since then.
‘We support the right of people to demonstrate and march in Rangoon and Burma but we also support that right around the world!’
Pointing to the crowd, comedian Mark Thomas said: ‘This is what democracy looks like!’
He continued: ‘We said the war would result in a catastrophe and a bloodbath.
‘Over 80 per cent of Britain was opposed to the war and yet they ignored us.’
Keith Sonnet, deputy general secretary of UNISON, said: ‘We have opposed the wars with Iraq and Afghanistan and also the threat to Iran.
‘We condemn the atrocities taking place day in and day out in Iraq.
‘The union supports completely the efforts of the Stop The War Coalition to get troops out of Iraq and to oppose any attack on Iran.’
He condemned bans on unions and strikes under the occupation in Iraq and the continuing assassination of trade unionists and applauded oil workers in Basra for fighting the attempts to privatise Iraq’s oil resources.
George Galloway, the Respect MP suspended from parliament, said the decision to allow the march to go ahead was ‘a significant victory for liberty and democracy.’
He added: ‘If this battle had not been fought, another priceless piece of liberty would have gone.’
Quoting the assassinated Cuban Revolution leader, Che Guevara, he said a revolutionary must be capable of trembling with indignation at any injustice against any person, anywhere.
He said a million Iraqis had been killed and the lives of millions more had been ruined, as a result of the decisions taken by ‘the criminals in the British parliament and the US Congress’ to go to war.
He added that Guevara said: ‘There are no frontiers in the struggle.
‘A victory for one people in this struggle against imperialism is a victory for us all.
‘Victory to the resistance in Iraq, victory to the Palestinians and victory to freedom fighters everywhere, because their victory is our victory too.’
Galloway concluded that: ‘We are sleepwalking into a disaster in the Persian Gulf.
‘If we don’t wake up, then you’ll hear the news that the US and Israel have launched a blizzard of death and destruction against the people of Iran.
‘Out of it will come a horror which will make even Iraq pale by comparison.
‘Tell Gordon Brown that not one soldier or military asset will be leant to George W Bush for any war with Iran.’
Ex-British SAS soldier Ben Griffin said the looks on British soldiers’ faces showed they were ‘fed up’.
He added that there was still a ‘sizeable contingent’ of British special forces operating in Baghdad under the control of the United States.
‘This war won’t stop until we break our “special relationship’’ with America. We have had enough,’ he said.
Labour MP John McDonnell, who opposed Gordon Brown for the Labour Party leadership, told the rally: ‘You’re reclaiming our streets, you’re reclaiming our civil liberties. I applaud what you have done.’
He added that ‘nothing’ could make up for Brown’s funding ‘of a bloodbath in Iraq’.
‘We don’t want a thousand troops out by Christmas, we want them all out and we want them out now,’ he added.
A speaker from Campaign Iran also addressed the rally.