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Peace campaigners descend on London

PUBLISHED: 06:01 15 February 2003 | UPDATED: 16:17 24 February 2010

THOUSANDS of peace campaigners from East Anglia were on their way to London's Hyde Park today in protest against a possible war with Iraq.

Some see the Stop the War Coalition march, expected to attract more than 500,000 protestors, as an eleventh hour protest as war against Iraq seems ever more inevitable.

THOUSANDS of peace campaigners from East Anglia were on their way to London's Hyde Park today in protest against a possible war with Iraq.

Some see the Stop the War Coalition march, expected to attract more than 500,000 protestors, as an eleventh hour protest as war against Iraq seems ever more inevitable.

There was hope that yesterday's report by Chief United Nations weapons inspector Hans Blix would reveal a greater level of compliance from Iraq.

But although inspectors have not uncovered any weapons of mass destruction, Mr Blix said there were many forbidden materials still unaccounted for.

Home Secretary Jack Straw last night urged the UN to stand by its threat of force to the bitter end, adding that to back down now would lead to a greater threat to world peace, in the long term.

He accused Iraq of playing games and seeking to humiliate the UN.

Those boarding "peace trains" and buses to the capital today hope to persuade the Government that force is not the answer. Many feel Hans Blix's report did not make a strong enough case for war and showed weapons inspections were working.

The Right Rev Clive Young, Bishop of Dunwich, will be among the peaceful demonstrators from Suffolk at the rally, which includes groups such as CND, Greenpeace, Amnesty International, the T&G, Socialist Workers, Suffolk Humanists and many religious organisations.

He believes force should be a very last resort – only when sanctioned by the international community through the UN.

He added: "The Security Council will have to think very carefully about where it goes from here. It is never too late to hold back from the brink of war. We are talking about the lives of innocent Iraqi civilians and those of our own service personnel. The whole of the Middle East would be thrown into more turmoil and international terrorism would undoubtedly be worse.

"We must offer our prayers for world leaders faced with this huge responsibility."

Sophie Watson, 34, secretary of Suffolk CND, from Newton Road, Ipswich, will also join the rally. A committed peace protestor since her early teens, she can see no justification for war under any circumstances.

She said: "I feel the reasons we are being given for the use of force are not telling the whole truth. We are being told it's to rid the world of a tyrant but lots of countries with dictators have weapons of mass destruction. But then not all those countries have oil."

Student Richard Johns, 29, a member of the Harwich Stop The War campaign, said he believed Tony Blair and George Bush would have a difficult time "spinning a pro-war story" out of Hans Blix's report.

He added: "I certainly do not think Mr Blix will have made anyone who is undecided or against the war change their mind. The most powerful thing that came across was Mr Blix's quite emphatic insistence that the inspectors continue their investigations and that there is no case for war."

Sara Ali, of Austin Street, Ipswich, is a 30-year-old Iraqi who left that country to settle in England three years ago.

She said: "I cannot say that Saddam does not have these weapons but I don't think they will be able to find them if they go to war. If they attack Iraq it will make the situation worse."

Alan Hurst, Labour MP for Braintree, however, said he still supported the Government's position.

He added: "The overriding point is the obligation on Saddam Hussein to co-operate fully with the weapons inspectors. This is not supposed to be some cat and mouse game."

Celebrities and politicians, including Liberal Democrat leader Charlies Kennedy, Tony Benn, boxing champion Chris Eubank, Rev Jesse Jackson, Bianca Jagger were all due to speak at the demonstration, organised jointly by the Stop the War Coalition, Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and the Muslim Association of Britain.

The rally was due to coincide with similar protests in more than 80 other cities across the world. Beginning at 12.30pm, the march follows a set route through the streets of the capital before making its way to Hyde Park.


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