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Over a Million Take to the Streets
Published on Saturday, February 15, 2003 by the Daily Telegraph/UK
Over a Million Take to the Streets

More than one million people have staged an anti-war protest in London, making it the UK's largest ever peace demonstration.

Hundreds of thousands of anti-war demonstrators pack London's Piccadilly, Saturday Feb. 15, 2003, on their way to a rally in Hyde Park, to protest against a possible war with Iraq.(AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)
Hundreds of thousands of campaigners crammed into Hyde Park for a mass rally to voice opposition to a conflict with Iraq. The turnout dwarfed the 400,000-strong countryside march which took place last year.

An ever-growing sea of people gathered around a specially constructed stage to listen to rousing speeches by politicians, pop stars and campaigners.

Waving banners and flags, protesters cheered and shouted as speakers put across the case against war.

Former Labour Cabinet minister Mo Mowlam joined others including veteran campaigner Tony Benn and Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy. She told the crowds: "Things can only get better if we stick together."

And she said: "Keep it peaceful. Because being peaceful, people will have no excuse not to listen.

The noisy but good natured protest was peaceful so far, with Scotland Yard reporting just three arrests. Two men aged 31 and 32 were detained for public order offences.

One 47-year-old man was detained for possession of an offensive weapon and racist material after being arrested in Whitehall Place. They remain in custody.

A digital screen on the Hyde Park stage reported that the numbers of people on the march had risen to two million. Scotland Yard was unable to confirm exact figures at present, but said the numbers ran into hundreds of thousands.

Organizer John Rees said the turnout was fantastic.

"It's an electric atmosphere but also very serious and determined. It's not just a question of war and peace," he said. It's a question of whether the Government is willing to abide by the majority of the people."

Stop the War Coalition, which organized the march, had predicted that it would be the broadest grassroots mobilization in British history, dwarfing anti-Vietnam rallies of the 1960s and peace rallies in the 1980s.

London Mayor Ken Livingstone and campaigner Bianca Jagger also took to the stage and are expected to be followed later by popstars Damon Albarn and Ms Dynamite.

The streets of central London remained full to the brim as people continued to try to reach the park.

More than 4,500 officers were on duty lining the roads, as protesters passed by cheering, shouting, sounding horns, banging drums and waving signs saying No War On Iraq and Make Tea, Not War.

Roads along the route were closed and all police leave was cancelled to cope with the march.

Hundreds of thousands of protestors pack London's Piccadilly, Saturday, Feb. 15, 2003, as they march to Hyde Park for a rally against a possible war with Iraq. (AP Photo/Andrew Parsons)
Coaches from all corners of the country began descending on London in the early hours, bringing together people from across the social spectrum.

The march, which began at two meeting points at Embankment on the Thames and Gower Street, was started early by police due to the swelling numbers.

When the two strands finally met in Piccadilly Circus there were deafening cheers from the thousands who gathered around the statue of Eros.

The march strolled past some of the capital's most famous landmarks, including the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben.

Giancarlo Suella, 29, a student from Rome, led the protesters into Hyde Park holding a banner which read: "Bush And Blair, A Good Christian Will Never Kill".

At Piccadilly, one of the youngest protesters, Rory Budd, nine, from Walthamstow, east London, carried a placard bigger than himself which read "No" in giant letters.

Asked what he thought about Mr Blair, Rory, who was with his father Dermot, said: "He's the only one who wants to go to war. I don't want it."

In Glasgow, organizers said around 61,000 protesters marched through the city center towards the Scottish Exhibition and Conference Center, where the Labour party's spring conference was being held.

A spokeswoman said it was the biggest protest the city had seen since anti-poll tax demonstrations in March 1990.

Tony Blair said in a message to the demonstrators: "I rejoice that we live in a country where peaceful protest is a natural part of our democratic process.

"But I ask the marchers to understand this: I do not seek unpopularity as a badge of honor. But sometimes it is the price of leadership and the cost of conviction."

The rally was co-ordinated by the Stop the War Coalition with more than 450 organizations affiliating themselves to the coalition including Greenpeace, the Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru and the SNP

Jacques More, 44, a writer from Croydon, south London, mounted a lone protest outside the Iraqi section of the Jordanian embassy in central London, holding a placard proclaiming his support of military action to bring down Saddam Hussein.

And in Italy today, one million peace protesters - wrapped in rainbow peace flags and shrieking slogans against a war on Iraq - flooded central Rome.

© Copyright of Telegraph Group Limited 2003


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