London police have announced a ban on anti-war campaigners hoping to protest against President George Bush's visit to Downing Street this Sunday. The Whitehall ban has been immediately condemned as a "totalitarian act" by the playwright Harold Pinter, while Stop the War organisers are urging people to defy it and to demonstrate nearby in Parliament Square.
"In what is supposed to be a free country the Stop the War Coalition has every right to express its views peacefully and openly. This ban is outrageous and makes the term 'democracy' laughable," Pinter said today.
Lindsey German, a leader of the Stop the War Coalition, said: "It seems that when George W Bush visits this country traditional rights of assembly are to be removed from the people. We are calling on those who care for our democratic rights to come to Parliament Square at 5pm on Sunday 15 June. Some of those who signed statements accusing Bush of war crimes will be leading this protest.
"George Bush has been dictating British foreign policy for many years. Now it appears his security services are determining our rights of protest. This is a disgrace and we will challenge the ban."
The anti-nuclear campaign CND said it believed the British government was allowing security operations to be directed by White House officials. Previous demonstrations have been allowed along Whitehall, but Bush's presence in Downing Street - he is due to have dinner with Gordon Brown - means protesters are to be banned from a police 'exclusion zone'.
Kate Hudson, CND chair, warned that protesters might ignore the police. She said: "Previous attempts to deprive us of our rights to protest have come to nothing. In February 2003 we were told we couldn't go on the grass in Hyde Park and what happened? Two million people joined us in Hyde Park to oppose the war on Iraq.
"Last October we were told we couldn't protest in Parliament Square to demand the withdrawal of British troops. What happened then? The morning of the protest we were given the go-ahead. We have a proud record of peaceful democratic protest and we mean to continue - lift the ban now."
© 2008 First Post/UK