More than 2,500 anti-war protesters descended on parliament yesterday Sunday for an angry protest at the visit of warmongering mass murderer, US president George Bush.
Bush praised British prime minister Gordon Brown for being “tough on terror” and said that the invasion of Iraq – estimated to have killed over a million Iraqi civilians – was “the right thing to do”. The real aim of Bush’s visit became clear on Monday, when Brown announced more British troops for Afghanistan and “further sanctions” on Iran.
No surprise then that so many people were angry that Bush was invited to visit Britain in the first place and were determined to make their voices heard.
Many were shocked at the policing operation that was put in place to stop people from exercising their democratic right to protest. The operation was rumoured to have cost over £1 million.
Police blocked off Whitehall with metal barriers, rows of police vans, horses and lines of riot police, preventing demonstrators from marching to Downing Street. They attacked protesters with batons, causing many injuries and hospitalising some people.
23-year old Peter Simpson was one of the protesters injured by police at the demonstration. “Police were hitting our hands with their truncheons,” he said. “They were standing over us like bullies with their weapons. I was hit on my arm, shoulder and head. Blood was steaming down my face.”
Several demonstrators were arrested after police attacked the protest. Carole Vincent, an anti-war activist from Walthamstow was one of them. She told Socialist Worker, “I was at the front of the protest against the railing and was being pushed forward. A bit of the barrier fell and some people tried to get through to go to Downing Street.
“Once the first barrier had been pushed over I was pushed forward again and had to put my hands out or I would have fallen down. I had to put my hands on the next barrier – and as soon as I did the batons started flying.
“I was hit on my arms and hands. The police were hitting people indiscriminately.
“I heard two senior officers were getting descriptions of people in their earpieces. There were loads of descriptions – they were obviously targeting people to grab and arrest later.
“I was arrested for violent disorder. The police said that I picked up a barrier and threw it at them. I told them that I just chanted with others and then left, but the police grabbed me very tightly and dragged me away.
“I was kept in a cell overnight and had to be given painkillers for the injuries I’d received. My arms and hands are covered in bruises. So many people were injured after being whacked by the police.”
Despite the disgraceful behaviour of the police, the protest had a big impact, with lots of support from passers by and media coverage. The protest was angry and young, with many people demonstrating for the first time.
Nimco Ismail is a health care assistant in London. “This is my first anti-war demonstration,” she told Socialist Worker. “I came after watching a documentary about US involvement in Somalia. We have to make our voices heard – the world has to know what Bush is doing.”
Pau from Watford was another first-time protester. “I believe that war is not the way to get peace,” he said. “It’s important that we’re here as people will be watching around the world.”
People were angry that their right to protest had been squashed at the behest of George Bush. “It’s ironic that our march had been banned on the anniversary of the signing of the Magna Carta,” said Jyotrmishra, an anti-war musician from Derby.
“The US is interfering with our civil liberties. Yet if a demonstration was banned in China there would be an outcry.”
“It’s still important to demonstrate against Bush because he needs to be held accountable for what he’s done,” said Sarah from Stanmore. Andrew from Bristol Stop the War Coalition agreed. “I’m completely opposed to everything that Bush stands for,” he told Socialist Worker. “He’s not only unwelcome in Britain – he’s unwelcome on this earth.”
Many pointed out the hypocrisy of the “war on terror”. Lindsey German, convenor of the Stop the War Coalition, was cheered when she said from the platform, “What right does Bush have to preach about democracy when the US is leaving permanent bases in Iraq? What right does Brown have to talk about freedom when he passes laws to detail people without charge for 42 days?”
Protesters were also clear that the campaign against the war would continue until all troops are brought out of Iraq and Afghanistan – and that the movement would fight any attack on Iran.
As Tony Benn, president of the Stop the War Coalition, said, “This is about more than just Bush, Blair and Brown. We will not stop until all the troops are out and Palestine is free.”