By Paul Thompson
and Ray Fulcher
The Stop Aidex Campaign has opened an office in Canberra in preparation for major protests during and prior to Aidex '91, the biggest armaments exhibition ever held in the southern hemisphere. The office is provided by the Canberra Program for Peace.
The Hawke government has backed the exhibition, but some companies have now withdrawn due to public pressure and the possibility of unfavourable publicity. The organising company, Desiko Pty Ltd, has become increasingly shrill in statements to the media.
Activists are still hopeful that the arms bazaar can be closed down, as similar exhibitions have been in Europe and North America in recent years. At the very least, large protests could help to ensure that Aidex '91 is the last of its kind in this country.
Organisers say Stop Aidex Campaign activities will be based on the principles of non-violent direct action. Legal teams have been organised to assist protesters who fall foul of the law.
The protesters plan to establish camps at Parliament House and opposite the Natex convention centre, where the exhibition will be held. In most capital cities, buses are being organised to take protesters to Canberra.
The Canberra office of Stop Aidex may be contacted on (06) 247 2424, fax (06) 248 5560.
Meanwhile, in Melbourne about 100 people rallied outside the Port Melbourne premises of the Defence Science Technology Organisation (DSTO) on Remembrance Day, November 11, to protest against Aidex.
The rally, called by Friends of the Earth (FOE), requested the organisation not to participate in Aidex or the manufacture of arms. DSTO management refused to meet with the demonstrators for two minutes silence to remember all war dead and the genocide against Aboriginal peoples.
An Aboriginal speaker invited the protesters to enter the DSTO site, as it was on Aboriginal land. Four people were arrested in a vicious police assault on a ladder placed against the perimeter fence. The four were later released without charge. A further blockade of the site was planned for November 18.
In another protest, organised by the Anti-Aidex Coalition, more than 400 people gathered at the GPO on November 16. As well as the cancellation of Aidex, the rally called for an end to military aid to Indonesia in the wake of the East Timor massacre.
Speakers included Vanessa Hearman of Indonesia Solidarity (AKSI) and Bob Muntz of Community Aid Abroad (CAA), who was injured in the Dili massacre. The protest moved to the Victoria Markets, where it was addressed by Australian Democrat Senator Sid Spindler and a ted Teachers' Union.
The rally ended with a brief occupation of the Army Reserve Recruiting Centre and further speakers from the East Timorese community and Student Campaign Against Militarism.
To reserve a place on Melbourne buses to the Aidex protests in Canberra, phone 419 5937.