BRITAIN: 100,000 expected for anti-Bush demonstration



LONDON — The Stop the War Coalition (STWC) is hoping for a turnout of more than 100,000 people for the November 19-21 demonstrations against the state visit of US President George Bush to London and in opposition to the US and British occupation of Iraq.

The STWC has organised a raft of protest actions to take place over the three days of Bush's "state visit", which means it is at the invitation of the queen. A standard feature of state visits is an open-carriage procession with the queen, but this has been cancelled due to the fear of protests.

The STWC has organised an anti-Bush procession for November 19 and a mass rally in Trafalgar Square on November 20, which will culminate with the toppling of a statue of Bush.

Anti-war sentiment in Britain is running high and opinion polls are consistently showing that a majority are against the US-led Iraq war. This majority is further incensed that the world's greatest terrorist leader is to be treated like royalty. Bush's visit will mainly consist of banquets with officials. He will be billeted with Betty Windsor at Buckingham Palace.

The London Metropolitan Police (Met) and the US Secret Service want a protest-free space for Bush. On November 11, it was announced that an "exclusion zone" around the Houses of Parliament, where the main protest march was scheduled to pass, would be created. However, the uproar this caused forced the Met to backdown from this on November 13.

Security costs alone for the Bush visit are expected to be around £5 million. All police leave has been cancelled so that up to 5000 officers can be mobilised to contain the demonstrators. The US Secret Service will supplement this force with up to 600 armed agents. The Secret Service has been lobbying for immunity from prosecution and the right to shoot-to-kill anyone they believe to be a threat to the life of the president.

Meanwhile, the mainstream media and Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair have been inadvertently building the protest actions. During a November 10 speech to business leaders, Blair devoted almost the entire time to defending Bush's visit. Foreign secretary Jack Straw has attacked the protesters' "fashionable anti-Americanism". As a result, the major broadsheets have carried front-page headlines outlining the STWC's planned actions.

With anti-war organising meetings taking place every night around London, attracting up to 200 people each time, the anti-war movement is united and strong around the key demands of "End the occupation" and self-determination for the Iraqi people.

[Marcus Greville is a member of Australians Against the War UK. Email .]

From Green Left Weekly, November 19, 2003.
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