Britain

On May 10, British PM Tony Blair finally made his long-awaited resignation statement. Blair will stand down as prime minister with effect from June 27. He will also stand down as leader of the Labour Party, and preparations for the election of the next Labour leader — who will simultaneously become PM — got underway immediately.

On May 22, a jury returned a verdict of not guilty in the trial of peace activsts Philip Pritchard and Toby Olditch (known as the ‘B-52 Two’). The two were charged with conspiring to cause criminal damage at RAF Fairford in Gloucestershire in 2003 when they tried to safely disable US B-52 bombers to prevent them from bombing Iraq. The court heard the two men acted to prevent damage to life and property in Iraq, as well as war crimes. It was the second trial for the two; the first, in October 2006, ended with a hung jury. During the trial the prosecution accepted that even delaying the bombers would have prevented civilian casualties, as it would have allowed those fleeing cities more time to escape. Visit <http://www.b52two.org> for more information.

Official British government figures released on March 27 revealed that in the past year, the number of children in Britain living in relative poverty increased by 200,000. According to the March 27 BBC News, in 2005-06 the total number of children who satisfied the official definition of relative poverty — living in households with incomes equalling less than 60% of the national average when housing costs are included — rose from 3.6 million to a staggering 3.8 million.

British band Ugly Rumours (named after PM Tony Blair’s college band) has released a cover of War (What is it Good For?) (originally made famous by Edwin Starr). The single, which is performed by “Tony Blair” in an accompanying video clip, reached number six in Britain’s singles chart by March 1 and was expected to go all the way to the top. Profits go to help the Stop the War Coalition. The Respect coalition reported on its website on March 1 that the song had been banned by the BBC. “The BBC Radio One Newsbeat programme was due to record a package about the single today, but pulled out at the last minute, claiming that the record was ‘not newsworthy’. However, sources at the highest level within the BBC have privately confirmed that a banning order has been instituted.” The song is being distributed at <http://www.indiestore.com/uglyrumours/tracks?trackID=-12189>

On February 24, 60,000 anti-war protesters took to the streets of central London in a demonstration against the US-led occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, and against the threat of military action now hanging over Iran. On the same day, thousands of protesters marched through the streets of Glasgow, demonstrating against the Labour Party’s plans to upgrade the Trident nuclear weapons facilities based in the Clyde estuary.

A man released without charge after a week in detention as one of the latest batch of police “terror suspects” has branded Britain as “a police state for Muslims”. Abu Bakr, one of nine men arrested in high-profile raids in Birmingham on January 31, made the comment on the BBC Newsnight program following his release on February 7. One other man was released along with Bakr; another seven are still being held in police custody.

More than 200,000 public service workers in the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) held a nationwide strike on January 31, which is being followed by a two-week overtime ban. The February 1 Morning Star reported that “the action hit 200 government departments, halted important court cases and paralysed passport offices, benefit centres, and tax offices”. In addition, the Welsh Assembly in Cardiff was forced to abandon proceedings, and in London the British Library, Tate Modern and Tate Britain were closed.

Early morning on September 5 security guards burst into the sleeping quarters of Colnbrook immigration detention centre in west London. The guards had come to take 32 Iraqi Kurdish men away. Barefoot, handcuffed, with the guards swearing at them, the 32 were taken to RAF Brize Norton airforce base. Their threatened forced deportation to Arbil in northern Iraq was imminent.

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