THE LARGEST weekday demonstration anyone can remember showed the scale of the opposition to Tony Blair's love-in with George Bush last week. About 300,000 people marched through central London, totally eclipsing Bush's attempt to use his visit to Britain as a gigantic photo opportunity. They came from schools and colleges or got out of work for the day to descend on the capital from all areas of Britain.
'We have succeeded in confining Bush to house arrest in Buckingham Palace,' Lindsey German from the Stop the War Coalition told cheering crowds in Trafalgar Square. And it felt like that in London last week.
Three quarters of the central zone of the city ground to a halt as the demonstration threaded its way from the heart of the university area across two bridges, past parliament, down Whitehall and into Trafalgar Square. The main body of the square was already full when the head of the march arrived-the end had not yet left the starting point miles away.
Bush was harried from the moment he arrived up to his departure. The stage managing of his visit-designed to prevent him meeting ordinary people-made a mockery of the claim that he came to 'meet the people'. The government threatened school students with disciplinary action if they walked out in protest at the visit.
Then it banned school students from the north east turning up at their school when Bush visited because they were vociferously against the war. In the US the police set up sinister 'free speech zones' wherever Bush visits. Protesters are hemmed into the zones, out of sight of the presidential entourage.
The White House put pressure on the London police to do something similar. But the Stop the War Coalition defiantly insisted on the right to march past parliament and down Whitehall. The result was that it was Bush who was left in his own bubble of unreality as he was sped between Buckingham Palace, 10 Downing Street and the US ambassador's residence.
'All these police in London,' anti-war MP George Galloway told the demonstration. 'And still they've not been able to arrest a war criminal, even though two of them are here right under their noses!'
Nor were the huge numbers of police (costing over £7 million), hundreds of armed US agents, and media scare stories about violence able to intimidate people away from the protests. The pro-war rabble in the press was reduced to attacking people for demonstrating on the day two bombs went off in Turkey. The answer to that came from the demonstrators themselves.
As people found out about the bombings they immediately understood that it is Britain's support for the US's imperialist policies in the Middle East and across the globe that is making this country a target. That was the majority feeling in Turkey too, where over 80 percent of the population opposed the invasion of Iraq, although you would not know it from the British media. The right wing Turkish papers tried to use the bombings to stoke up Turkish nationalism and anti-Islamist hysteria.
The main trade union federations and professional associations called protest demonstrations for Saturday. The media wanted to divert people's anger into support for Bush and for the Turkish generals' desire to intervene in Iraq. 'But the London demonstration was widely covered,' say socialists in Turkey. 'It was reported as the largest working day demo in London ever, and the image of the pulling down of the Bush statue was shown on many channels. The effect of the London demo and the previous international anti-war, anti-occupation actions was to undermine the propaganda for Bush's war against terrorism. That meant the demonstrations on Saturday were overwhelmingly anti-war and anti-occupation in tone. The organisers had called for silent marches, but the great majority of those taking part ignored that call and were shouting slogans blaming Bush, Blair and Sharon for the escalation of violence. The result was an anti-war demonstration in Taksim Square in Istanbul, a location that the police have denied to left wing marches for the last 26 years. The effect was not just on the demos. We saw on TV the village funeral of a young married couple who worked as cleaners in the British consulate and died together in the bombing. Crying relatives shouted at reporters, 'Bin Laden, Min Laden, that's all a story-the Americans are to blame!''