Wednesday, September 21, 2011

UK Witness Day of Action at Arms Bazaar in London

LONDON--Tuesday 13th September: the first day of the arms fair and the Stop the Arms Fair day of action. What a day it was! The morning started with a dawn banner drop opposite the ExCeL Centre, then saw a critical mass cycle protest and blockades of entrances to the arms fair. An Anglican priest was allowed through the entrance after claiming he was there to perform the official exorcism but soon after was swiftly ejected!

250 people took part in CAAT's colourful protest outside parliament: a supermarket queue to buy tear gas and bombs was set up to mock the very serious business taking place at the arms fair. Many of those present lobbied their MPs, calling on them to sign the cross-party Early Day Motion calling for an end to arms sales to authoritarian regimes.

The protest provided a launch pad for lots of mobile protests on the DLR and more obstruction of the entrances to the arms fair. Others went on to General Atomics, who make Reaper drones, to perform 'remote controlled killer robots' street theatre. One group blockaded the HQ of the arms industry's lobby group - Aerospace Defence & Security. Yet another group filled the air with bubbles outside Tate Modern to declare "Bubbles not Bombs".

At 5pm, activists came back together for large 'die-in' outside the BAE offices on Carlton Terraces, filling the whole street until 6pm. It was a powerful moment when people started dropping to the ground and silence fell.

In the evening, the National Gallery hosted DSEi's official reception. But protesters were there first, refusing to leave as the gallery closed and eventually being forcibly removed even from the steps. A huge banner that read "NATIONAL GALLERY LOVES ARMS DEALERS" was unfurled and crowds gathered to witness a spontaneous die-in outside the gallery.

Protesters were able to stay crowded around each entrance shouting and chanting as arms dealers were escorted by scores of police into the reception. We spotted Geoff Hoon (with an escort of eight policemen) and Richard Paniguian (head of government arms sales unit UKTI DSO) among those entering. One delegation turned on its heels when it saw the protest.
The huge diversity of actions that took place meant that although the arms fair went ahead, its first day went a lot less smoothly than the industry would have liked! CAAT will keep up the pressure on the organisers - Clarion events and the government - to ensure that the arms fair does not return to London in 2013.

Read more about the day of action:

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