‘BLOOD on your hands!’, ‘Shame on you!’ shouted demonstrators opposite parliament on Tuesday night, as MPs left the House of Commons after a debate on the government’s conduct leading up to the invasion of Iraq and in the aftermath.
The demonstrators were angry that the government had narrowly survived a vote on a motion – put forward by the Scottish National Party and the Welsh nationalists Plaid Cymru – calling for an inquiry into its actions.
More than 500 people took part in the emergency protest at Parliament Square, called by the Stop The War Coalition, demanding an immediate end to the occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan.
As the debate was taking place inside parliament, they kept up chants of ‘What do we want? Troops out! – When do we want it? Now!’, ‘Tony, Tony, Tony – Out, Out, Out!’, ‘One, two, three, four – we don’t want your bloody war! Five, six, seven eight – stop the killings, stop the hate!’, ‘Occupation is a crime! – Free Iraq and Palestine!’ , ‘No justice, no peace! – US out of the Middle East!’, ‘Resist, resist! – Bush and Blair are terrorists!’, ‘They call it liberation, we call it occupation!’ and ‘You lie, kids die!’
There were banners there from the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND as well as Goldsmiths College Students Union in south London.
Chido Poe, a politics and sociology student at Goldsmiths, told News Line: ‘Me and my friend just experienced extreme infringement of our human rights.
‘We simply went and stood by that fence on the other side of the road and were cornered by four police officers and were told we wouldn’t be let go until my friend put her sign down and we walked to the other side of the road.
‘And then they took a photograph of us.
‘We tried to stop the traffic, but got immediately pushed to the other side of the road and they told us we were breaking the law, but wouldn’t tell us what law we were breaking.
‘They showed us a map of central London and one of the officers turned the map over and said, “there’s the legislation’’ and said “the people inside there make the legislation, not us’’.’
She added: ‘I feel extremely insulted. I think we have every right to raise our voices and stand on that side of the road and raise questions when they come out of parliament.
‘I think war crimes are being committed. I think it’s a repeat of history, we saw this in Vietnam.
‘I think this is a very heated war and people feel very strongly about it and even if they can’t voice that opinion, they still have that feeling inside them.’
Sohail Nazir, also a student at Goldsmiths, said: ‘Blair said the main reason for the war was weapons of mass destruction and he said Saddam Hussein is dangerous for the world and dangerous for the Middle East.
‘But Hans Blix didn’t find any WMD and the Americans and the British didn’t find any either.
‘They lie and we don’t know what’s really going on, there is no transparency.
‘We want to know what’s going on.’
Sanjeet Heyer, 20, said: ‘I’m from California and I’m studying in Britain.
‘When I found out this protest was taking place, I definitely wanted to take part.
‘The House of Commons is actually taking notice of this issue after three and a half years.
‘I think that we’re a young generation that’s going through disastrous wars, totally illegal, and I definitely think they need to hear the voice of the people.
‘Everybody is saying the same thing, it’s not about race, it’s not about religion.
‘This is a war in which 665,000 Iraqis have died and the human casualties have not even been taken into consideration.
‘And I definitely think it’s important, whether you’re a student, working class or whatever you are. This is definitely something you must speak out about. You have your voice, you have to use it.
‘I’m here demanding they take the issue under serious consideration and they need to pull out of Iraq immediately and stop telling the public lies and isolating one community completely.’
Prasanth Wes, an artist from London, said: ‘I’ve always been against the war and it’s getting more and more clear that the situation is totally out of control.
‘We’ve just gone and messed up the whole of the Middle East and it’s quite appalling what’s happening: 665,000 Iraqis have died.’
Steve Barnes from London said: ‘This is the first debate in parliament on Iraq for a long time.
‘What I think they should be discussing is not whether there should be an inquiry, but about the war crimes that are happening in Iraq as we speak. That is the issue.
‘We should bring the country to a halt to bring about peace and justice throughout the world. That’s what I think should be done.’
Nina Cosslett, from New Zealand, and Amir Laher, from London, also spoke to News Line.
Nina said: ‘I want to see Tony Blair held accountable: it would send a message that you can’t just occupy another country.
‘I think Blair should be charged with war crimes.’
Amir said: ‘The important first step is recognising that it is an occupation, rather than a war.
‘It is time to pull the troops out and spend the billions on aid instead of weapons.’
A mother from London, said: ‘This along with climate change are the two most important issues going on in the world and if we don’t deal with them with as much passion as possible, we may not have a world for our children. It’s as simple as that.
‘If only all the people on the buses and in their cars all got out and filled the streets and surrounded parliament and made it impossible for them to ignore us, then they would have no choice.
‘Demonstrations have toppled governments in the past.
‘We need some kind of revolution, but no government that I can see is going to offer that. They’re all just as bad as each other.’
Inkeri Tuomola, from Finland, said: ‘I want the occupation of Iraq to end immediately.
‘I have been part of the movement opposed to the war from the very beginning.
‘I don’t know what we can do.
‘I think students should be much more active.
‘Iraqi people are not just numbers, they should not be forgotten.
‘I don’t think there is one person left in Iraq who hasn’t lost someone close to them.
‘We know there’s a war, we know people are dying, but we can’t put ourselves in their position. It’s way to arrogant to ignore them.’
Angry demonstrators said what they thought of the government and the new police powers to curb and stop protests, shouting: ‘They arrest students so they all have criminal records, while they are killing children in Iraq. This is their democracy.’
Brian Haw, who has maintained a non-stop vigil outside parliament, despite threats and arrests, said: ‘You will hear the voice of the people. The people say peace!’
‘Don’t hide the genocide!’ he shouted through his megaphone.
Tony Benn addressed the crowd, saying: ‘The demonstration in Parliament Square today is far more representative of public opinion in Britain and America than you get on the other side of the street in the House of Commons.
‘Our argument has won the day.
‘What we have to do now is get the troops out of Iraq and out of Afghanistan and we’ve got to tackle the issue of Israeli aggression against Syria and get the West Bank for the Palestinians.
‘This is not a war against terrorism, this is a war against Iraq, against Afghanistan and a threat of war against Iran.’
Afterwards Lindsay German, from the Stop The War Coalition, said the vote by a majority of 25 in the government’s favour showed that ‘very few Labour MPs revolted.’