Britain: Mass protest against war in Afghanistan

November 4, 2009

The Stop the War Coalition-organised demonstration on October 24 brought the centre of London to a standstill. It was a landmark demonstration, led by Lance Corporal Joe Glenton — the first serving soldier in the British army to join an anti-war march.

The march brought together at least 10,000 protesters from across Britain, calling for all British troops to be brought home.

Joining Glenton at its head were ex-soldiers, a number of military family members — including Peter Brierley, who earlier this month refused to shake former Labour PM Tony Blair's hand, saying it had "my son's blood on it" — and 104-year-old peace campaigner Hetty Bower.

The march took place on the day a new poll showed almost two-thirds of British people want all British troops withdrawn from Afghanistan and 86% believe the war is being lost.

Glenton faces court martial for refusing to return to Afghanistan. He defied a direct order from his commanding officer to not join the march, for which he may face further charges.

He told marchers: "I expected to go to war but I also expected that the need to defend this country's interests would be legal and justifiable. I don't think this is too much to ask.

"It's now apparent that the conflict is neither of these and that's why I must make this stand.

"It is distressing to disobey orders, but when Britain follows America in continuing to wage war against one of the world's poorest countries, I feel I have no choice."

Ex-soldier Paul McGurk, who left the army in September after serving in Afghanistan made him realise the war was unjustified, told ITN News while on the march: "I think it's ridiculous that we're there. I think the government should stop pretending that it's a just war and it's worth the lives of our guys.

"The government should stop saying it's a winnable war because everyone knows it's not. We should just leave, and that's why I'm here today."

Brierley, whose son Lance Corporal Shaun Brierley was killed in Iraq, said: "When you actually look at what's happening, it's exactly the same as in Iraq. Civilians are being killed, British soldiers are being killed and the country is being ruined.

"They shouldn't be there. The people don't want them there."

Labour MP and vice-chairperson of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, Jeremy Corbyn, said: "NATO forces have been in Afghanistan for eight years and the result is increased drug production, high levels of corruption and terrible losses of life on all sides, civilian and military.

"Now is the time to change policy and bring the troops home to prevent a Vietnam-style quagmire."

Author and veteran anti-war activist Tariq Ali challenged the British government or any politician to debate Stop the War on why Britain is fighting a war opposed by most people in Britain and by most people in almost every country around the world.

The country's oldest anti-war demonstrator, Bowyer, marched every step from Hyde Park to Trafalgar Square, where she told the crowd: "I march because I can see no reason for further killing. I have walked on every march against us going to war.

"At my age there is not very much I can do, but while my legs can carry me, I am going to march."

[Abridged from]

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