Tens of Thousands Protest Against Wars Before British Labour Party Conference
Published on Sunday, September 24, 2006 by the Associated Press
Tens of Thousands Protest Against Wars Before British Labour Party Conference

MANCHESTER, England - Tens of thousands of anti-war demonstrators marched Saturday against the presence of British troops in Iraq and Afghanistan on the eve of the governing Labour party's annual gathering.

Protesters packed Manchester's central Albert Square before setting off on a march around the conference centre where delegates will hold their five-day meeting, starting Sunday.

Prime Minister Tony Blair arrived Saturday at a nearby hotel where he and other party officials will stay during the meeting. He did not speak with the protesters.

Blair has said the five-day Labour conference will be his last as party leader. He gave in to pressure from his party two weeks ago to promise he would quit within a year.

"We're here to protest the damage Blair has done," said Jennifer Jones, 20, a student who wore a mask of the prime minister's face and a white shirt spattered with fake blood.

Around her, demonstrators cheered, whistled and banged drums.

A few hundred metres from the hotel, families of British soldiers killed in Iraq set up a "peace camp" of a half-dozen tents, where they intend to stay during the gathering in an attempt to draw Blair's attention.

The Stop the War Coalition, which organized the march, estimated about 30,000 people participated. Police put the figure at about 20,000.

Speakers at a rally outside the conference venue accused Blair of following the United States into illegal wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and failing to condemn recent fighting between Israeli forces and Hezbollah guerrillas in southern Lebanon.

Blair "is about to fall, not because of (the) economy, or a great social issue, he is about to fall for one reason...it is the wars and the obscene Monica Lewinsky relationship he has entered into with George Bush," independent member of Parliament George Galloway, an outspoken former member of the Labour party, told the crowd.

Other speakers included journalist Lauren Booth, sister of Blair's wife Cherie, who lambasted Blair over Lebanon.

"I want him to feel ashamed...that he didn't push for an immediate cease-fire in Lebanon and let it be flattened," she said.

Allies of Treasury Secretary Gordon Brown, who is widely expected to succeed Blair, were pushing his credentials as a future prime minister. The Labour conference is expected to be key to strengthening his position.

Constitutional Affairs Minister Harriet Harman, a Brown ally who plans to run for deputy party leader, suggested Brown might have a different relationship with Bush than Blair does. Blair's close ties with the U.S. president - and his support for Bush in Iraq and on the recent fighting between Israel and Hezbollah militants - have infuriated many Labour loyalists.

"The new leadership needs to have a foreign policy that is rooted in people's sense of what they think Britain's place in the world is and that might mean a different view about our relationship with America or our relationship with Europe," Harman told GMTV television in an interview to be broadcast Sunday.

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