Protest march may break records
By David Taylor, Evening Standard
This is LONDON
14/02/03 - News and city section
From Aberdare, York and 249 other departure points in between, the masses will begin to converge on London from 3am tomorrow.
Organisers of the Don't Attack Iraq march have been confident for weeks of drawing huge numbers of people to Hyde Park for what could be the biggest protest march Britain has ever seen.
However, as the fleet of thousands of buses and peace trains heading for London grows by the hour, surprised national coordinators are starting to contemplate something unprecedented: a crowd well in excess of 500,000 coming together in defiance of the Anglo-American preparations for war.
They will come from the most diverse backgrounds imaginable, as first-time protesters, families and middle-class professionals unite with peaceniks, British Muslims, trade unionists, Left-wing activists and veterans of the anti-globalisation movement.
A group of cabbies calling themselves Bedford Britons v Bush and a collective of drum-and-bass DJs known as Ravers Against The War will be there, along with many rebel Labour MPs and celebrities - including Blur frontman Damon Albarn and novelist Will Self.
The Jewish community has raised concerns that the issue of war on Iraq has been linked to the slogan "Freedom for Palestine". But some British Arabs and Jews have resolved to march together, voicing shared concerns for the people of Iraq, and about the danger that war will worsen the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The march will be deeply uncomfortable for Tony Blair, an unmistakable reminder that he has failed to persuade huge sections of the population about the wisdom of going to war.
Fewer than 10 per cent of Britons believe it would be right for the country to take part in a war against Iraq without the UN passing a new resolution in favour of the conflict. And 45 per cent polled by ICM for the BBC believe the UK should play no part in a war on Iraq, whatever the UN decides.
Six out of 10 people think the UK and American governments have failed to prove their case that Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass destruction - and the credibility of their intelligence has been badly undermined by the revelation that large sections of a Downing Street dossier were copied from the work of a Californian postgraduate student.
Within Nato, France, Germany and Belgium have held out against preparations for war. But public opinion in Europe is more heavily stacked against war, with more than 70 per cent of people polled in Spain, Belgium, Netherlands, Sweden, France, Italy, Ireland, Germany and Greece opposed to intervention without UN support.
Yet, as the London march and 80 others in cities around the world set off tomorrow, Mr Blair has made clear that the marchers have "no moral monopoly", insisting that the world faces a choice between war and sanctions that have had devastating consequences for the Iraqi people.
Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith has backed the "powerful moral case" against Saddam, but Lib-Dem leader Charles Kennedy will speak at the rally against war.
All police leave has been cancelled for the weekend and 4,500 officers will be on duty to police the march, which will be the biggest ever seen in Britain if it surpasses the 410,000 at last year's Liberty and Livelihood countryside march.
Scotland Yard has warned that many roads will be closing from 10.30am and will not reopen until after the march and rally is over at 5.30pm.
Deputy Assistant Commissioner Andy Trotter said, "The message from the police is: 'Don't come into the centre of the capital unless it is absolutely necessary'."