'Je Suis Charlie' rally

Trafalgar Square, London. Sun 11 Jan 2015

Nick Clegg and French Ambassador Sylvie Bermann gesticulate at the Rally in Trafalgar Square
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Nick Clegg and French Ambassador Sylvie Bermann were among the thousands with 'Je suis Charlie' and other posters in the rally in solidarity with those killed in the Paris shootings in Trafalgar Square.

I photographed them as they were leaving the event and making some rather strange hand signals, which seemed to me typically Gallic; I'd just heard a French woman congratulating Clegg on his French accent.

But I hadn't gone there to photograph these two, but the thousands of people, many French but also plenty from the UK who were there to express their disgust at the barbarity of the Paris attacks. Many of them had printed the 'Je suis Charlie' signs, but others had made their own to express their views which were sometimes more nuanced.

I'd arrived late and expected to miss the Ambassador and other celebrities, but had hoped to see the projection of the French flag on the National Gallery which I had been told would happen at 4pm. By the time I left around 20 minutes later only one of the projectors appeared to be working, and that was showing only a test pattern.

The 'fountains in the colours of the French Flag' were also somewhat dissapointing as this simply meant they changed from being coloured red, to colourless and to blue. I tried hard to make all three colours visible at once, but soon gave up.
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13th Year of Guantanamo Shame

US Embassy, London. Sun 11 Jan 2015

A protest on the 13th anniversary of the prison camp called for Obama to close it and free Shaker Aamer
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13 years after the Guantánamo Bay detention camp opened, with 148 prisoners still held without charge or trial, campaigners outside the US Embassy asked President Barack Obama his own question, 'Is This Who We Are?' and called for closure now.

There were speeches from solicitor Louise Christian who represented a number of prisoners held in Guantanamo and Noa Kleinman of Amnesty International UK, as well as former soldier Ben Griffin of Veterans for Peace UK who threw some light on the British Army and Intelligence services long record of torture at least in conflicts since the Second World War, including in Malaya, Kenya, Cyprus, Northern Ireland and elsewhere. The only politician asked to speak was London's Green MEP Jean Lambert who has long been a supporter of the campaign.

But the main event of the afternoon was a two-part performance, 'Is This Who We Are?' which used the text of various speeches by President Obama about Guantanamo (including some from before his election as president) read by actors with Obama masks hanging around their necks, along with a chorus and some interviews. Unfortunately I missed the second part of this as I was on my way to another event.

The protest took place a few days before David Cameron is due to hold talks in the USA with Obama over security following the recent Paris attacks, and the protesters hope that he will urge Obama to close Guantanamo and free Shaker Aamer to return to his family in London. The presence of Guantanamo with its trademark orange jumpsuits is one of the most potent factors leading to the radicalisation of a small number of young Muslims who join with groups such as IS and carry out terrorist attacks in the west.
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Free Shawki Ahmed Omar

US Embassy, London. Sun 11 Jan 2015

The family of Shawki Ahmed Omar listen to speeches with protesters from the London Guantanamo Campaign
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Narmeen Saleh Al Rubaye and her 9 year old daughter Zeinab continue their regular protests at the US embassy over the imprisonment of Shawki Ahmed Omar, who has dual Jordanian/US nationality. I first reported on them in April 2013, where you can read more about the case on My London Diary.

Shawki Omar and his wife were arrested and tortured after being held by the US in Iraq; she was released but he was kept in jail and handed over to the Iraq authorities when the US left in 2011. Now he has disappeared and the US denies any knowledge of his whereabouts, although probably US intelligence are still involved in his detention.

His daughter Zeinab was born shortly after his arrest and has never seen her father, but comes regularly from Birmingham with her mother to protest outside the US embassy. With them today was a brother who lives in Sweden, and as well as holding their own protest they took part in the protest for the 13th anniversary of the founding of the Guuantanamo Bay prison camp.
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Cirque du Soleil - Say No To Apartheid!

Royal Albert Hall, London. Sat 10 Jan 2015

Picket calls on Cirque du Soleil to respect the Palestinian call for a cultural boycott of Israel
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Protesters picketed the Royal Albert Hall performance by Cirque du Soleil calling on them to respect the call by Palestinians for a cultural boycott of Israel and stand up against Israeli apartheid and oppression of Palestinians.

Cirque du Soleil, a contemporary circus based in Montreal, Quebec have an estimated annual revenue of US $810 million and are performing for a season at the Albert Hall in London.

In 2012 the Palestinian Circus School wrote to Cirque du Soleil asking it to reconsider performing in Israel, "and join other artists from around the world who have called on you to support human rights and the right of all people to be free from military occupation." They ignored this and other pleas from Palestinians and many others and went ahead with their visit to Israel.

In 2014, the circus was also picketed in London over its planned performances in Israel later that year, but these were then cancelled for security reasons as Israel was engaged in its prolonged attack on Gaza. They now plan to perform their 'Quidam' show for 11 performances at Tel Aviv's Nokia Arena in July 2015.

The picket handed out leaflets to people going in to the hall and to those walking past along Kensington Gore. I only arrived shortly before the picket finished for the day, but they intend to return and leaflet at other performances during the season.
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Oh! Mother Against Knife Crime

Padbury Court, Bethnal Green, London. Sat 10 Jan 2015

Joel Adesina's mother marches behind the 'Enough is Enough' Oh! Mother banner calling for end to killing
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Nigerians from across the UK joined the Oh! Mother campaign against knife crime, founded after Olamide Fasina was murdered in October in Thamesmead, to march in Bethnal Green protesting the unprovoked stabbing to death of 15-year old Joel Adesina.

Following the brutal murder of Olamide Ben Fashina by a gang of young men in Thamesmead on October 14 last year, a group of Nigerians, coordinated by Bridgette Peters, set up the campaigning organisation 'Oh! Mother' to campaign against knife crime. They aim to persuade youths about the dangers of carrying weapons and joining gangs, and help those already in them to leave, and also to support parents, especially mothers and make them aware of the problems and how they might take greater care of their children. Oh! Mother also aims to support single mothers and to provide comfort for the families of the victims of violent crimes.

Together with Youth Against Crime not Crime Against Youth, Oh Mother organised the march and rally in Bethnal Green following the stabbing of Nigerian youth Joel Adesina, a 15-year old keen footballer from Dagenham who was regarded as a potential professional.

Today's march follows the stabbing death of 15-year-old Joel Adesina. Police say that there was a fight between two groups late at night on Bethnal Green Rd on December 5 and shortly afterwards Adesina was stabbed in the abdomen in a narrow street, Padbury Court just to the north. An ambulance was called but he died in hospital three hours later from a liver wound. Police have arrested a number of people and have charged one man in connection with his murder.

People, including Joel Adesina's mother, sister and other family members and some from Olamide Fasina's family met at the corner of Padbury Court, where a graffiti on a brick wall a few yards down the street with the message 'RIP Joel' marked where he was killed. I stood next to a TV reporter and took pictures as Joel's mother and others went to the spot before rejoining the others.

Before the march there was a prayer from the pastor before people, mostly Nigerians, formed up behind the Oh! Mother banner with its message 'Enough is Enough', with Joel's mother at its centre, for a march down Gibraltar Walk to Bethnal Green Road, along past a parade of shops and then up Brick Lane and back along Padbury Court to the scene of his death.

After another prayer there were speeches from the organisers and leading members of the Nigerian community in London, including a magistrate, about the problems of gun and knife crime and what might be done to prevent it. Then came some moving contirbutions from three young friends of Joel, and from his sister speaking for the family.



Pay John Lewis Cleaners a Living Wage

Oxford St, London. Sat 3 Jan 2015
A protester holds a message from John Lewis customer Una Kroll: ,'Outsourcing is a way of avoiding responsibility'
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Cleaners and customers protested outside the flagship Oxford St store calling for them to live up to their ethical reputation and pay those who keep the shop clean a living wage. The cleaners complain John Lewis treats them as second class citizens.

Unlike their pre-Christmas protest, this had been widely advertised and notice give to the police and the protest took place in Oxford St on the busy pavement outside the store, with a line of police between the protesters and the doorway. As well as protesting against their unfair treatment by John Lewis, the IWGB cleaners were also protesting against the attacks by police on protesters inside the store last month, where police assaulted many of the protesters and others as they were trying to leave, stopping and arresting three of them.

Also present at the protest were a number of John Lewis customers, just a few of the over 125,00 who have already signed a petition calling on the company to live up to its ethical reputation and ensure that the cleaners are paid a living wage.

John Lewis attempts to disclaim any responsibility for the cleaners who work in their store by outsourcing their employment to a contractor, but the cleaners still work there alongside the directly employed staff, who enjoy better conditions of employment and a large annual bonus as "partners" in the business. But the 127,865 people who have signed the petition, as well as the cleaners and other trade unionists see this as a shallow attempt at deception. The work done by the cleaners takes place in the store and is essential to its running and should be properly recognised and paid.

The cleaners belong to the Cleaners And Facilities Branch of the IWGB (Independent Workers Union of Great Britain), a registered trade union, and complain that neither John Lewis nor the cleaning contractor recognise the IWGB, and that they treat the cleaners as second class citizens.

The IWGB states:

The protest was led by IWGB General Secretary Alberto Durango and President Jason Moyer-Lee. There were short speeches of support by others including Green Party London Assembly member Jenny Jones, (Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb) and Mick Dooley of London TUSC, as well as a great deal of noisy shouting and blowing of horns. Many of those passing took a flyer about the protest and expressed their support. During the protest people held up some of the comments written by John Lewis customers who had signed the protest, expressing their disgust at the failure by John Lewis to treat its workers properly and including some who stated they were boycotting John Lewis until they paid the living wage, and some of these were read out by the protesters.

After around an hour and a quarter of protest, the event ended with a tour around the outside of the store which occupies a whole block on the north side of Oxford St. The protesters stopped briefly at each of the doors of the shop but made no attempt to actually go inside even when they arrived just before the police and in-store security.
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Vigil for Leelah Alcorn

Trafalgar Square, London. Sat 3 Jan 2015

People light candles before the minute's silence

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A candlelit vigil took place in Trafalgar Square for transgender teen girl Leelah Alcorn, who threw herself under a truck after her Christian parents forced her into 'conversion therapy', calling on this medically unsound and dangerous practice to be banned and for her grave to bear her chosen name.

17-year-old Leelah Alcorn from Kings Mill, Ohio, USA, wrote a poignant suicide note on her Tumblr blog where she blamed her Christian parents for refusing to acknowledge her gender and forbidding her from transitioning before walking to her death in front of an oncoming lorry.

Her devout Christian parents had forced her to undergo 'Conversion Therapy' which attempts to change sexual orientation through counselling. This practice has no basis in medical science and has a high risk of suicide, leading to its banning in two US states. Some of the speakers at the event expressed their anger about this practice and called for it to be banned, and for those who carry it out to be prosecuted.

In the note which she posted publicly shortly before her suicide, Leelah Alcorn wrote of having felt since she was four "like a girl trapped in a boy’s body" and her relief when she found out about the possibility of transgender transitions, and her feeling of hopelessness when she realised that her parents "would never come around" to her transition.

She wrote: "The only way I will rest in peace is if one day transgender people aren't treated the way I was, they're treated like humans, with valid feelings and human rights."

"Gender needs to be taught about in schools, the earlier the better. My death needs to mean something. My death needs to be counted in the number of transgender people who commit suicide this year. I want someone to look at that number and say 'that’s f**ked up' and fix it. Fix society."

Her supporters are also appalled at the thought that she will be buried with a gravestone carrying not her chosen name of Leelah but the name she was given at birth, Joshua.

People gathered in front of the National Gallery in light rain, with many holding umbrellas as well as candles. After a number of short speeches, including several from people who had themselves transitioned, everyone was invited to light a candle for a two minute silence in memory of Leelah.
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New Year's Day Walk

Pangbourne, Berks. Thu 1 Jan 2015

A pond near Sulham when we had taken the wrong path
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I went for a walk with my wife and son, starting and finishing at Pangbourne Station. They had planned a route from a rather old book of 'tea shop walks' but the teashop was shut on New Year's Day. I wasn't that bothered, as tea shops are not really my kind of thing. For me a good walk ends in a pub, and if there isn't a pub let's get home before my legs stiffen too much. Linda takes a flask of tea with here anyway.

We got off to a bad start, with our train arriving in Reading rather late. We should have had twelve minutes to change but it got stuck just outside reading. 'Swans on the line' seemed a silly reason to stop, as they would surely have hopped out the way sharpish if the train had simply proceeded at walking pace towards them. 29 minutes to wait in Reading Station for the next service to Pangbourne.

We wasted more time in Pangbourne as they went to find the tea shop to ascertain whether it would be open. It wasn't. Finally we could start the walk. The first 3 miles or so we'd done before, though in the opposite direction, along the Thames Path to Mapledurham Lock. Wind in the Willows country - although Grahame wrote the book a few miles downriver in Cookham, he later moved to Pangbourne, and scenes from around there were the basis for the best-known illustrations of the book.

From there (after sitting to eat our sandwiches on a cold and draughty seat) we walked away from the river, through the fringes of Purley to Long Lane and Sulham Hill. Here we followed a direction to go through a gate onto a footpath from the car park, but unfortunately chose the wrong car park. Half a mile on, when the directions made no sense, we wandered lost for a while before consulting map and compass and realising we were going in entirely the wrong direction. But it had taken us past a couple of ponds which yielded perhaps the most interesting pictures of they day, which otherwise we would have missed.

Soon we were back on route, and on leaving the woods on a very muddy path to Tidmarsh and the River Pang, surprisingly guarded (or at least at some time in the war) by several pill-boxes. A short walk aong the main road and another footpath took us to the River Pang and a path beside it led back to Pangbourne, which we just reached as darkness really fell. My companions insisted on missing the next train back to Reading to go and look at the Whitchurch bridge again, so we had another wait on a station platform. The train to Reading came and ran more or less to time, giving us another wait of 25 minutes for our connection at Reading. But at least our trains were running, unlike so many around the country, which seemed to be in almost continual chaos.
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my london diary index

Jan 2015

'Je Suis Charlie' rally
13th Year of Guantanamo Shame
Free Shawki Ahmed Omar
Cirque du Soleil - Say No To Apartheid!
Oh! Mother Against Knife Crime
Pay John Lewis Cleaners a Living Wage
Vigil for Leelah Alcorn
New Year's Day Walk


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