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Wednesday, 19 February, 2003, 16:07 GMT
Anti-war rally makes its mark
The clear-up operation begins after the anti-war march in central London
The clear-up operation begins in central London
The government is taking stock of one of the biggest days of public protest ever seen in the UK against a possible war with Iraq.

In London, around a million people took to the streets in what police described as the largest demonstration ever to be held in the city.

There were also rallies in Belfast and in Glasgow - where the Labour party is holding its Spring Conference.

During a speech to conference delegates, Tony Blair defended his tough stance on Iraq.

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But the BBC's political correspondent Mark Mardell said it would be interesting to see how much notice Tony Blair took of the marches.

"Presumably the size of those marches do represent public opinion. He'll be keeping a very close eye on the opinion polls.

"If at the end of the day he does get another UN resolution as I'm told by his closest aides he believes he will then I think the problem is very much less."

I thought I needed to show that we were against the war so the prime minister can't say that he has the backing of his people

Francesca Morrison
But if he decides he has to think about going to war with America that is a huge decision.

"It means taking the country into a war that most people in the country are against and certainly the Labour party are against.

"He's almost damned if he does and damned if he doesn't."

On Saturday contingents arrived in London from about 250 cities across the UK for a three-and-a-half mile march and rally - organised by Stop the War Coalition, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) and the Muslim Association of Britain.

Two separate meeting points were used before the streams converged in Piccadilly Circus and made their way to Hyde Park for a rally.

Crowds at Hyde Park rally

Organisers claimed up to two million people took part, with police estimates putting the figure at "in excess of" 750,000.

Organiser John Rees said the turnout had been fantastic with an "electric atmosphere but also very serious and determined".

Leading the demonstrators into the park was Italian student Giancarlo Suella, 29, who held a banner reading: 'Bush And Blair, A Good Christian Will Never Kill'.

He said: "I came to England to make my point to Mr Blair, it's hard to believe what he is doing."

At the rally, Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy told the crowd he was not persuaded by the case for war.

With "misleading" evidence provided by the government, "it's no wonder that people are scared and confused", he said.

High profile speakers

Former US presidential candidate the Rev Jesse Jackson also spoke and led the crowd chanting "give peace a chance, keep hope alive".

Among other high-profile supporters were writer Tariq Ali, ex-minister Mo Mowlam, London's mayor Ken Livingstone, actress Vanessa Redgrave, human rights campaigner Bianca Jagger and former MP Tony Benn.

Playwright Harold Pinter made a rare public speech, saying America was "a country run by a bunch of criminal lunatics with Tony Blair as a hired Christian thug".

Hollywood actor Tim Robbins, also attending, told BBC News the crowds were "what democracy looks like".

If Mr Bush and Mr Blair ignored them "they are not rightful leaders of a democracy", he said.

The BBC's Bob Sinkinson
"Britain's biggest ever peace protest"

Key stories




See also:

07 Feb 03 | Politics
15 Jan 03 | Politics
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