Published on Sunday, October 17, 2004 by the Agence France Presse
Tens of Thousands Throng London To Protest Iraq War
LONDON - Tens of thousands of demonstrators took to the streets of central London to protest against the Iraq war as Prime Minister Tony Blair struggled to shake-off fierce criticism of the invasion back home.
Organisers said that between 65,000 and 75,000 protesters had taken to the streets for the peaceful march, which began at Russell Square, close to the British museum. Police put the figure at between 15,000 and 20,000.
Protesters from around the world clutched banners and blew whistles as they marched towards Trafalgar Square, where a mass rally was taking place.
"Troops out," screamed one of many placards being waved by protesters.
"Blair must go," said another.
Sunday's march was the latest in a series of demonstrations organised by the Stop The War Coalition before and after the US-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003 that was backed by Britain.
The march was arranged Sunday to coincide with the end to the three-day European Social Forum held in London. It comes also after a stormy week for Blair, who was accused in parliament last Wednesday of misrepresenting intelligence on Iraq to make the case for war.
"I am against the war and capitalism," one demonstrator, going by the name of Charkoo, told AFP. "I want to show we are willing to fight against the war," added the 31-year-student from South Korea.
The brother of Kenneth Bigley, the British hostage recently executed by his captors in Iraq, had urged people to turn out in force for Sunday's march.
"For Ken's sake and for the sake of everyone in Iraq I ask you to make your feelings known to our government, to protest and to join the demonstration," Paul Bigley was quoted as saying by the Press Association, Britain's domestic news agency.
Activists and campaigners were to be entertained later with a free concert in Trafalgar Square.
Sunday's demonstration came after 25,000 protesters marched through London in March on the first anniversary of the Iraq invasion.
On that occasion, two demonstrators scaled Big Ben, the landmark clocktower of the Houses of Parliament, at dawn and unfurled a banner that read: "Time for the truth."
Last November, up to 200,000 people protested in Trafalgar Square when US President George W. Bush was in London for a state visit. Ahead of the Iraq war in February 2003, police estimated that one million people descended on the capital to protest the looming invasion, while organisers said the figure was nearer two million.
Sunday's protest came just days after Blair apologized to parliament for flawed intelligence on Iraq. But Blair, gearing up for a general election expected next year, angrily denied charges he "misrepresented" it to make the case for joining the US-led invasion last year.
The march took place also amid speculation that Britain was to agree to a US request to redeploy its troops in Iraq. A defence ministry spokesman said Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon would brief parliament Monday following reports.
"He plans to make a statement to the House (of Commons) tomorrow. What he is going to be saying is 'we have been approached by the Americans to deploy British troops in their area of operations'.
"He will also be stressing that no decision has been made and that we continue to consider their request and will do so on its individual merits. He won't be naming units, he won't be giving you a start date or anything like that," the spokesman said.
Reports in Britain have said British troops based in the relatively calm south of Iraq could be redeployed under US command near strife-torn Baghdad.
But the ministry of defence spokesman ruled this out.
"If the troops do go they won't be going to Baghdad or Fallujah," the spokesman told AFP.
Sunday's anti-war rally was meanwhile organised to coincide with the final day of the third annual European Social Forum here, which has seen thousands of activists from around the world defend the rights of workers and minorities, promote efforts to protect the environment and protest against the war in Iraq.
© Copyright 2004 AFP