Freedom For All Arab Nations!

Trafalgar Square, London. Saturday 26 Feb 2011
Bring down all the regimes and establish a people's democracy
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Around 200 people took part in an Arab unity demonstration on the North Terrace of Trafalgar Square called at short notice by British Libyans and friends demanding freedom for all Arab nations. London, UK. 26/02/2011

Shortly before 2pm a small group of Libyans unrolled banners on the steps at Trafalgar Square, but by the time I reached them the Heritage Wardens had told them that demonstrations were not allowed in Trafalgar Square, which although we think of it as public open space is apparently not.

Later, after more people had arrived, the demonstration started on the North Terrace in front of the National Gallery, which until recently was a road and is still public space.

The banners celebrated that 'The People's Will Brought Down Dictators' and one called for 'One United Arab People', and included the flags of Tunisia, Egypt, Libya (the old liberation flag), Yemen, Bahrain, Morocco, Syria, Algeria, Palestine and Saudi Arabia.

It was an animated demonstration, with a succesion of emotional speeches mainly in Arabic, interspersed with chanting, mainly calling for Gaddafi to go. One man spoke in English about his brother who was thrown into prison in Tripoli this week for taking part in a peaceful demonstration.

The demonstrators planned to continue to demonstrate in Trafalgar Square before returning to the Libyan embassy in the early evening for a further protest there.
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9/11 Truth Protest at Downing St

Downing Street, London.Saturday 26 Feb 2011

Police suggest the protesters might like to move. They didn't

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By the gates to Downing Street were four protesters, three of them holding placards, one saying '11 Sept 2001 Cover Up!' the second with a large red heart and the message '9/11 Truth 4 Peace' and the third '9/11 Truth Now'. Another person was handing out leaflets to passers by produced by an American non-profit group called 'Architects & Engineers for 9/11 truth' which is calling for a truly independent investigation of the events.

I'm not a great believer in conspiracy theories and have to admit that I've in the past had little time for those coming up with alternative explanations of what really happened on 9/11. But a few weeks ago I was at a cafe table with two fire fighters and an engineer all saying that the official story does not stack up with what they know about the behaviour of burning buildings.

But fortunately we have relatively little hard evidence of the behaviour of high rise buildings under such extreme conditions.And for that reason alone further detailed investigation of the evidence surrounding the collapse of the 47 storey WTC Building 7, which was not hit by a plane but collapsed catastrophically as if by a controlled demolition, might be worthwhile, as some experts seem unconvinced by previous conclusions.

When I arrived they protest had been continuing at the gates for some time, rather to the surprise of those involved. The police have for some years been fairly quick to act to try to prevent demonstrations on this side of Whitehall. While I was there the officer in charge of the area came to talk to the protesters, suggesting they might leave and that they might possibly lay themselves open to charges, but they declined to move and no action was taken at that point. An hour or so later, as I went past in the bus on my way elsewhere the protest was continuing, although again police were talking to them.

It was in most respects a fairly typical Saturday at Downing St, but does suggest a change in police attitudes and response towards demonstrators to one that is less dogmatic and which appears to be allowing protests that were previously banned but present no problems of public order or obstruction.
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Hands Off Our NHS

Downing Street, London.Saturday 26 Feb 2011
Most of those on the protest were from the campaign to save King George in Goodmayes
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The 'Hands Off Our NHS' protest had not been widely publicised, and it was raining, so it was not surprising that only around twenty or so people turned up at Hyde Park to march on Downing St. Because of the low turnout they started early and I found them walking on the pavement close to the bottom end of Park Lane. There they decided to continue to Downing St despite the small number and to hold their planned rally.

Most of those taking part were from East London, and they expressed great concern about the effects of the cuts and reforms proposed by the coalition and heath secretary, Andrew Lansley. His proposals for getting rid of primary care trusts and giving power to GPs are seen by many people as a way of accelerating the privatisation of the health service.

One of the most trenchant critics of Lansley has been Ben Goldacre, who has written in his 'Bad Science' column highlighting the incredibly misleading use of "evidence" by Lansley, showing that there is no proper evidence to back up these reforms which he suggests are a matter "of ideology, legacy, whim, and faith."

The NHS has been bedevilled by reforms - according to Goldacre 15 major reorganisations in 30 years. Few of them have been beneficial and few properly assessed. As the speakers at todays event stated, the current proposals are likely to be catastrophic for our healthcare and could mean the effective end of the NHS.

Those at the demonstration were mainly from Redbridge in East London, where a decision was taken in December to close the A&E and maternity departments at King George Hospital in Goodmayes despite a powerful campaign to save them by the communities it serves in Redbridge, Havering and Barking & Dagenham, backed by a 'Hands Off Our Hospital Campaign' from the Ilford Recorder which attracted wide support. They held a larger march in Ilford last month.
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UK Uncut Lecture in TSB

Oxford St, London. Saturday 26 Feb 2011

Today's headmistress had an orange umbrella that we followed to the TSB

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A group of around 70 UK Uncut protesters held an economics lesson in the Oxford Street Lloyds TSB. After the store had been closed for 25 minutes a police officer warned them they would be arrested if they stayed and the lesson continued outside on the pavement.

UK Uncut had planned a series of around fifty actions around the country against RBS/NatWest today in what they describe as the Big Society Bail-in. We bailed out the bank with £20 billion and now own 84% of it, but that does not appear to have resulted in it behaving any more in the national interest. The Uncut movement has now gone international with similar activities in the US making a total of more than a hundred actions today.

The Bank of England interest rate has been at a record low for many months, resulting in a record gap between the interest rate that banks pay to those who lend them the money they use and the rate that the banks charge those they lend it to. Easy, easy pickings for the banks, which are now coining it, and paying out obscene levels of bonuses to their top employees. RBS chief executive Stephen Hester is expected to receive a bonus this year of £2.44 million and others will get bonuses in excess of a million. As UK Uncut point out, before becoming Prime Minister, David Cameron argued:

"the UK’s bonus culture ‘encouraged short-term risk-taking instead of rewarding the long-term interests of shareholders and the public.’ Cameron therefore argued that ‘where the taxpayer owns a large stake in a bank, we are saying that no employee should be paid a bonus of over £2,000.’"

UK Uncut had announced they would meet at the Nat West (RBS) bank in Regent St at noon, but although that branch's Saturday opening hours are normally 10am to 3pm, today its doors were shut and the lights were out. The management appear to have decided not to risk a protest taking place.

Outside the bank, protesters, some dressed suitably in versions of school uniforms, formed a long crocodile and were addressed by a young headmistress who told them they were going elsewhere and that they would have to move fast to keep up, following her orange umbrella and the school bell that was occasionally rung.

Together we jogged down Oxford St. I managed to take a few pictures and keep up, and was actually a few yards ahead as the group stopped and swarmed into Lloyds TSB. I turned round and followed them in.

The staff retreated upstairs leaving the ground floor in the possession of UK Uncut, who were careful to cause no damage in their new classroom. A few police had come in with them, and stood around the front or back of the shop while the UK Uncut school started its session.

UK Uncut describe what happened next:

"Andrew Simms from the New Economics Foundation, John Christienson from Tax Justice and Anna Nolan from the Robin Hood Tax Campaign, gave lectures on the failures of the banking industry, tax avoidance and the alternative's to the public sector cuts."

Lloyds TSB made big profits this year and is paying out huge bonuses to senior staff, but paid no corporation tax at all in the last financial year because of their previous losses. They also use over one hundred and twenty offshore subsidiaries in tax havens to avoid paying tax.

After a couple of lessons had taken place, about 25 minutes after we came into to bank, the branch manager and a police officer asked the protesters to leave. The officer said that they had been given time to make their point, but that people had a right to make use of the services of the bank, and stated that anyone who remained would be arrested and charged. He explained clearly but firmly what would happen, adopting could only be described as an avuncular tone telling those present that most of them, unlike him, had most of their life in front of them and getting jobs would not be made easier if they got themselves a criminal record. He also told them that he was sending for reinforcements who would remove them physically if necessary.

After a short period of deliberation, the class decided it was time to leave and the school finished its lessons on the pavement outside. After a few minutes when the extra police who had arrived got back into their van and drove away I decided it was time to leave too.
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Libyan Embassy Protests

Knightsbridge, London. Saturday 26 Feb 2011
Libyan students and supporters demonstrated on the edge of Hyde Park, looking down on Hizb ut-Tahrir
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Two rival groups arrived to demonstrate at the Libyan embassy today, both calling for Gaddafi to go. Hizb ut-Tahrir want him to be replaced by an Islamic ruler, and the Libyan students want democracy.

Both protests were due to start at 11.00am, and Hizb ut-Tahrir had arrived early and taken up their position on the pavement on the opposite side of the road to the embassy. When I arrived there were perhaps two hundred of them, with a large orange banner tellking us that 'Arab-Muslim Rulers Are Traitors'. Many of the men waved large black flags with Arabic calligraphy in white, and there were smaller ones too for the boys on the demonstration. The women stood at one end of the protest, standing under umbrellas in the light rain and apparently taking relatively little part in the protest although a few did join in some of the chanting.

Several men spoke in Arabic using a megaphone while I was there, although I think I could occasionally hear the name Gaddafi and the word dictator, and I think they were calling for his replacement by an Islamic caliph. They led a number of loud Arabic chants directed forcefully towards the embassy with some powerful amplification. Unlike last Sunday when I was here there were no signs of life in the embassy, although there were a few police standing outside who could certainly hear the shouting across the two carriageways and underpass approach, and the protest would of course have been clearly visible from the upper floors of the building. It would appear the London embassy is still in the hands of Gaddafi supporters as the plain green flag of Gaddafi's Lybia was still flying there.

A group of Lybians, mainly students, arrived around a quarter of an hour later to find the area they had expected to protest in already taken. After a while they made their way into Hyde Park and held their protest on top of the low grassy bank above the other group to make it clear that they were separate from them. Many of these students had family and relatives who are taking part in the revolution in Lybia and they were at pains to make clear that the last thing that they wanted would be Islamic rule, which, as several pointed out has created a similar tyrrany in Iran to Gadaffi's Libya.

More students were still arriving as I left for another demonstration elsewhere, and I missed the statements they were intending to make later. But I promised to catch up with them later in the day when they were intending to be in Trafalgar Square.
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Jiro's Tokyo

Flowers East, Hoxton, London. Thursday 24 Feb 2011

Jiro Osuga (centre) at the opening
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It was a pleasure to go to the opening of Jiro Osuga's Tokyo, not only to see his work but also to meet many old friends from the former London Arts Café. As always we were impressed by the range of Jiro's imagination in his works, which as well as paintings included fans, masks, objects and an oracle. His work has a rare sense of fun, infectious and drawing the viewer into his universe which explores both Japanese and Western cultures, viewing both from his unique perspective in the images and objects which reflect back on the city of his birth.

Tokyo continues at Flowers East until 26 March 2011. The dozen images on the Flowers site give some idea of the work, but very much lack the life of the actual images - and I think the few glimpses in my images from the opening give a better idea of the show.
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Lambeth Protests Massive Council Cuts

Lambeth Town Hall, Brixton, London. Wednessday 23 Feb 2011

There was a large crowd on the pavement at the town hall

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Several hundred local residents came to protest outside the Town Hall where Lambeth Councillors were set to approve drastic cuts in council services.

One of the banners read "Labour Cuts in Lambeth? Thatcher would be proud!" and there was certainly a feeling of sadness and anger that the ruling Labour group had decided on such drastic measures. One speaker who got loud applause was Kingsley Adams, now a former Labour party councillor after being thrown out of the party for opposing the cuts and is now an Independent Labour councillor for Vassall ward.

The cuts are indeed draconian, expected to result in one quarter of the total staff - around 1000 council workers - losing their jobs. Among those to be lost completely are park rangers and school crossing patrols, many regeneration schemes and cultural events, and the noise nuisance service.

There will be massive cuts in services for children and young people, adult social care and the upkeep of estates - where rents will be raised. Discretionary travel passes for adults with mental health problems will go.

Levels of street cleaning, and the maintenance of roads, cemeteries and parks will be cut. There will be massive cuts in education, including the merging of Lambeth College with Lewisham College. Three of the borough's four public toilets will close, and drastic cuts in libraries will probably mean at least four closing.

Lambeth Labour who are making these cuts agree that the government's requirements for cuts are an ideological policy rather than a real need to make savings, but are still going ahead with them rather than taking the kind of stand that Lambeth people and Lambeth Save Our Services (Lambeth SOS) who organised this protest want.

The speakers at the rally, mainly trade unionists from the NUT and Unite while I was there, pointed out that there are plenty of other ways that Lambeth could make savings without cutting services, such as bringing some private services back under council control and ending the expensive use of consultants and high levels of expenses paid to councillors. They point out that the chief executive's salary alone at £270,000, which seems quite excessive and is one of the highest in the country is enough to keep a library running. Salaries at the top levels in councils across the country have increased obscenely in recent years, and it must be time for a drastic re-evaluation in this sector. Our Prime Minister currently takes a salary of £142,500, and it seems very hard to justify anyone in local government getting as much, let alone almost twice as much, particularly give the low rates paid to some council workers.

They accuse the council of paying silly amounts to some private contractors (they call them 'cowboy contractors) for the services they offer and suggest that large savings could be made by paying back the pension deficit over a longer period. They also suggest that the council should make use of its large reserves to keep services running in the short term while making sensible long-term plans to reduce their costs.

Members of Lambeth SOS were just going in to make their case to the meeting as I had to leave, shortly before the council meeting was due to start at 7pm. By then there were several hundred people standing on the pavement outside the council offices and on the various sides of the major road junction in the middle of Brixton. Many of the cars passing showed their support by 'honking' on their horns as placards suggested, and passengers in buses waved and gave raised fist salutes as they passed.

Shortly after I left, more than a hundred protesters occupied the meeting room for a couple of hours, but councillors simply held their meeting in another room and approved the plans for cuts of £79 million. It was a gesture that made the news bulletins, but the protest outside had shown the strength of the opposition.
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Libyans Call For UK Action

Downing St, London. Tuesday 22 Feb 2011

Woman shows contempt with shoe
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Several thousand Libyans and supporters of freedom in Libya came to Downing Street and called for the UK Government and the UN to take effective action to stop Gaddafi killing the people of Libya.

A large and noisy protest by Libyans and their supporters, mainly from the UK's Arab population gathered on Whitehall opposite Downing St on Tuesday afternoon. For several hours their shouts rang out calling for Gaddafi to go and for action by the UK government.

They called on the UK to mobilise international support against the Gaddafi regime, now surely in its last days having lost the support of the great majority of the Libyan people and control of much of the country. In particular they urged the setting up of a 'no-fly' zone over the country to stop the Libyan Air Force continuing the bombing of demonstrations and army barracks that have gone over to the revolution.

They also called on Britain, which has provided arms to control demonstrators, to stop its trade with Libya, and in particular the oil trade that is an important source of finance for the Libyan regime.

During the demonstration the stewards made great efforts to keep the large crowd under control, urging them to keep behind the barriers. When some of the protesters started burning pictures of Gaddafi, the stewards rushed to stop them, and when one man with a very small Libyan flag climbed up a lamp post they shouted at him to come down - and he did.

Later a man climbed a tree and proceeded to hang an effigy of Gaddafi from a branch. People threw the old Libyan flag up to him and he waved it vigorously The stewards remonstrated with him to remove the Gaddafi effigy, and after a short pause he let it drop into the crowd, who then threw it around for a minute or two.

One woman in a black burkha, only her eyes visible, bashed a shoe in contempt on an large photograph of Gaddafi (who surely by now we should be calling the former president, having lost all legitimacy) dressed as the grim reaper. Many waved the old Libyan independence flag, a gesture of defiance that would have attracted beatings and imprisonment by Gaddafi's security thugs in their own country, while others held up pictures of some of the terrible massacres against protesters in Libya or mainly hand-written slogans.

At one point the police brought in reinforcements, and they were standing three-deep in front of the Arab women who were chanting with extreme vigour but otherwise seemed to offer no threat to public order. After a few minutes the police appeared to realise the absurdity of the situation, and most of them ran off back to their vans leaving just a thin line along the edge of the pavement.

Just before I left, around half an hour before the protest, which had been continuing for around four hours, was due to finish, a woman from Al Jazeera spoke briefly to the crowd, and as I boarded the bus home, the whole of Whitehall was filled with the crowd continuing to chant their thanks to the station for its continuing coverage of events in Libya and the Arab world. Coverage of recent events in Libya and the rest of the Arab world has made many realise the deficiencies of the BBC and other western news media, and many of us in this country have turned to Al Jazeera on the web to keep up with the what has been happening.
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Gaddafi Must Go Now!

Libyan Embassy, Knightsbridge, London. Sun 20 Feb 2011

A man burns his Libyan passport, disgusted by Gaddafi's massacres of the Libyan people
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More than 500 protesters stood outside Hyde Park opposite the Libyan embassy across Knightsbridge, shouting for President Gaddafi (Muammar Abu Minyar al-Gaddafi's name is variously transcribed as al-Qadhafi, Gaddaffi, Gadafi etc) to go and to go now. As I took pictures they told me about the crimes of this tyrannical dictator. There was understandable anger as some told me of relatives who had been killed, of homes that had been destroyed and people thrown into jail. In Libya they told me, there is no freedom, for years we have been unable to say what we feel or to show opposition in any way.

One of the placards, written in Arabic, showed a glass of water. They told me that Gadaffi's son, when asked about anyone who was opposed to the regime, had said "Let them drink sea water!", an Arab idoiom meaning they can 'go to Hell!' Now the protesters, here and in Libya, are telling Gadaffi to go to Hell!

One of the banners gave the death toll of those killed as the Libyan mercenary army turned machine guns and large calibre weapons - inlcuding 50mm bullets - on the crowds of protesters at 545, and some reports put the figure higher - an unconfirmed audio report from Benghazi has stated there are around 900 dead there. The BBC is still giving a figure of "more than 200". The same audio feed from Benghazi has also stated that Gaddafi's special forces have been attacking an killing doctors in the hospitals treating the wounded.

As well as being a dictatorship where freedom has been ruthlessly suppressed since Gaddafi came to power in 1969, Transparency International rate Libya in the worst 10% of contries in the world for corruption. Many people asked me why the UK - and Tony Blair in particular - supported this regime, and the answer was unfortunately simple - commercial reasons, particularly oil; BP signed a $900 million deal with Libya in 2007 and plan to begin offshore drilling there in the next few months.

The demonstration had begun with many of the men standing and saying prayers, and then continued with spirited chanting and much waving of fists. Most of the chants were in Arabic, but some words, notably 'dictator' were clear, and the general meaning of them all was beyond doubt. Gaddafi was a murderous tyrant and should go now, leaving Libya to the people of Libya. People told me of their love for their country, but lamented that they could not go back there while Gaddafi remained in power as they would be murdered for having dared to express their opposition.

One of the banners read 'Sweden sent Adel Abu Ali to Torture & Death'. Mohamed Adel Abu Ali was returned from Sweden to Libya in May 2008 after his claim for asylum was rejected. On arrival he was detained in isolation, tortured and died in Libyan custody shortly after his return. Sweden suspended deportations for around a month, but despite not being able to determine exactly why he died then continued them. Libya has many prisoners detained for peaceful political activity, and, according to Human Rights Waatch, "Hundreds more have been 'disappeared,' some for decades. Many were imprisoned for violating Law 71, which bans any group activity opposed to the principles of the 1969 revolution that brought al-Qadhafi to power. Violators of Law 71 can be executed."

Many of the protesters carried or waved the old Libyan red, black and green flag with its white star and crescent adpoted on gaining independence from Italy in 1951. When the 1969 military coup brought Gaddafi to power, it was replaced then by the red, white and black bands of the 'Arab Liberation Flag', which lasted until 1971 when Libya joined the Federation of Arab Republics and adopted a verison of their flag. When Libya left that in 1977 as a part of Gaddafis's so-called 'Green Revolution' he chose a plain green flag, the traditional colour of Islam and the country's national colour, and this was flying on the embassy opposite. The old flag is used as a symbol of opposition to the Gaddafi regime.

A roar went up from the crowd as man began waving a flag on the steps of the Libyan embassy, separated from the demonstrators by the two wide carriageways of Knightsbridge and in their middle the roadways of the Hyde Park Corner underpass. After a while we saw that the police had forced him to move away but a number of other protests had joined him, and we made our way across too, and soon a group of around 50 were protesting on a low wall in front of the embassy, with more police coming to defend it.

After a while, police pushed the protesters back down on to the pavement, and stewards and protest organisers came to persuade the protesters to move back across the road to the penned area. It looked as if the police were about to detain one of the men, but the organisers managed to get them to release him, and everyone went back across the road where the noisy demonstration continued.

Half an hour later, with the protest set to continue for at least another couple of hours until 6pm I left. Reports, largely from Twitter and also relayed by news agencies suggest that tonight protesters are in control of the streets of Benghazi, Libya's second city, while being fired at sporadically by the security forces who have retreated to their barracks for safety.
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Hackney Marches Against Cuts

Dalston & Hackney, London. Sat 19 Feb 2011

People gather for the march outside Olympic House on Stoke Newington Road
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Around 500 people marched from Dalston to Hackney Town Hall where more joined them for a rally against cuts in jobs, benefits and public services on the steps of the town hall.

While revolutions around the Arab world have been hitting the headlines, the media have paidseem to be paying relatively little attention to the winter of discontent that has been gaining momentum on our own high streets. Today's march in Hackney was one of a number of local demonstrations - including another a short distance away in Walthamstow - against the planned cuts in public services as well as widespread demonstrations which closed branches of Barclays Bank across the country.

In the London Borough of Hackney, around 500 people, including many from the Turkish and Kurdish communities gathered at noon in the light rain on Stoke Newington Road, where there were a number of speeches against the cuts and closures affecting the NHS, education and other public services. Several speakers pointed out the hypocrisy of suggesting that the 'Big Society' could play a more active role in promoting community welfare at the same time that funding was being slashed to the very community groups that could support such a programme.

The protesters want no cuts in public services and jobs, and none of the massive increases in council house rents proposed, and for tenants to have proper security of tenure. They are opposed to cuts in benefits and care for the elderly, the unemployed, the sick and the disabled, and against the rises in university tut ion fees, the cuts in university courses and the abolition of the EMA which is a vital support for 16-18 year-olds from poorer families in education. They also oppose cuts in Youth Services and the privatisation of the NHS, fire service and post.

One speaker urged the necessity for direct action and gave as an example the many actions by UK Uncut earlier in the day at Barclays branches because of their excessive use of strategies such as subsidiaries based in tax havens to avoid UK taxes. Later the march stopped outside the Barclays branch on Kingsland High Street for some minutes to drive home the message that Barclays should play fair and pay UK tax - as most of us have no alternative but to do.

The march, led by the banner of organisers the Hackney Alliance to Defent Public Services, attracted a great deal of attention with its colourful banners and loud samba band and as it passed by the crowded shopping streets in Dalston many people took leaflets and showed their support for public services and opposition to the drastic cuts now being undertaken.

From Dalston the march went along Dalston Lane to Mare Street in the centre of Hackney, with people looking out of windows and coming out of shops to watch it go past. A number of shoppers at the top end of Mare Street joined in and walked with it to the Town Hall, where others were waiting to take part in the rally, which was still continuing half an hour later as I left.

Momentum is building up for the National TUC organised march and rally against the cuts in London on March 26, which many hope will be on a vast scale, perhaps bringing more than a million out onto the streets of the capital (the TUC estimates there will be a quarter of a million.) Some also plan to make it a more memorable and newsworthy event with 24 hour demonstrations and non-violent direct actions such as occupying business premises.
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London Street Photography Opens

Museum of London, London Wall. Thursday 17 Feb 2011

My single image in the show, taken in Whitechapel in 1991
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I've written more about the opening on >Re:PHOTO in the post London Street Photography and shortly I'll write more on that blog about the show itself - at which perhaps surprisingly, photography is not allowed. But nobody objected when I took a few pictures during the opening. The show continues until 5 Sep 2011 and entry is free. It isn't a perfect show and certainly incomplete, but is I think an important first (and quite possibly last) overview of a subject of some interest, and puts current 'street photography' in a more sensible context than much of the hype.

Southbank Pans

South Bank, London. Wed 16 Feb 2011
One of a series of panoramic images from the South Bank and later at the Barbican
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These images were taken around sunset on the South Bank, mainly because I wanted in some to show both exterior and interior views. But there was also a nice sky so I also took some that made use of this. Later I had a few minutes to spare at the Barbican, so I did some test images working in darkness there - as usual without a tripod. But it was perhaps just a bit too dark, with not quite enough artificial light.

The linked page shows this and some of the other images a little larger, though the original files a rather larger still - the original of the above is a 25Mp image.
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Valentine Protest - We Love Public Services

Downing St, Whitehall, London. Monday 14 Feb 2011

'Stop the Valentines Day Massacre of our Public Services' rally organised by the Coalition of Resistance
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The Coalition of Resistance, uniting students, trade unionists and other groups protesting against cuts in public services, organised a 'Stop the Valentines Day Massacre of our Public Services' rally and delivered a Valentine card to David Cameron asking for him to support public services rather than cut them.

The protest, on Whitehall opposite Downing St, gathered at dusk and listened raptly to a lengthy series of speeches from school and university students, trade unionists and union officials, representatives from organisations supporting the health service and other public services, left wing activists and others. Some stressed the need to follow the Egyptian example and call not just for an end to the cuts but to go to the streets to bring down the Lib-Dem coalition.

The coalition is a broad united national campaign against cuts and privatisation and is not linked to any political party but is committed to open working in a non-sectarian way. At its base was a founding statement written by Tony Benn in August 2010, and it includes thousands of individual supports as well as national unions, union branches and various campaigning organisations, including pensioner, unemployed and youth organisations. Although this was a relatively small demonstration, with around a hundred people present on a Monday evening, those present represented the broad constituency behind the coalition.

There were calls from many of the speakers for the government to clamp down on tax evasion and tax avoidance to reduce any need for cuts, and some stressed the need to maintain investment - particularly in green jobs - and employment as a way to reduce the deficit.

Many speakers stressed the need to back the TUC demonstration on 26 March and to get millions on the streets of London to show the depth of opposition to the cuts. Some suggested that people should stay on the streets rather than go home at the end of the protest, keeping up the pressure to bring down the government or change its course.

A message from our only Green Party MP, Caroline Lucas was read, and as I was leaving, MPs John McDonnell and Jeremy Corbyn arrived to speak before two socialist choirs combined to bring the event to a close.

Earlier, a small deputation had attempted to go into Downing Street to deliver a large Valentine card to David Cameron. On its cover was the message 'Don't Break Our Hearts' and inside the text: 'Roses are Red, Violets are Blue, We love Public Services, Why don't you?' Unfortunately the police refused to let them enter Downing St, but they did take in the card, but it seemed another unnecessary restriction on spurious grounds of security.
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Reclaim Love Pavement Party

Piccadilly Circus & Green Park, London. Sat 12 Feb 2011

Reclaim love presents an alternative to the commercial messages about Valentines day on the hoardings in Piccadilly Circus, watched by Eros and a helicopter far above.
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Venus led 250 people from Eros to Green Park to form a circle inside a circle of trees, joining others around the world calling for universal love and peace before continuing the Reclaim Love Valentine Party at Piccadilly Circus.

This was the 8th Annual Reclaim Love Pavement Party, organised by Venus "to celebrate the Greatest thing on Earth and the Greatest thing we have inside…Yes, Love!!!" This party, usually held around the statue of "Eros" at Piccadilly Circus was threatened this year in two ways, firstly that Venus had felt she needed to rest this year and secondly that Piccadilly Circus is currently being treated to a long-needed facelift. But the enthusiasm of so many who had taken part in previous years persuaded Venus to change her mind, and apparently she used her persuasive charms to get the workmen to tidy up the area to make it possible to meet there, while finding an highly appropriate alternative location nearby for the circle which is the centrepiece of the event.

People gathered at Piccadilly Circus, where a couple of hundred free 'Reclaim Love' t-shirts (100% pure organic cotton, Fair Trade and ILO compliant, from 'Ethical Threads') in a variety of sizes and colours were given away. People danced and hula-hooped to drum and guitar and then a samba band made up from a number of London's street music groups including 'Rhythms of Resistance' played it's first set, with an appreciative crowd listening and some dancing.

Shortly before 3pm, Venus talked to the crowd about the idea behind the event, to try and get together a mass of people at the same time to "focus their Love and Positive Dreams for a more Love Centred Reality, we can perhaps create the Critical Mass needed to create the Collective Consciousness Shift that will propel us into the place that we can safely call The Love Filled Planet Earth!!!" and announced that we would shortly be setting off for a very special place.

A procession of around three hundred people set off down Piccadilly to Green Park, where Venus again addressed them, telling them about the very special circle of 13 tall plane trees, which was a powerful centre at the crossing of several of London's ley lines. We were also reminded of the need to look carefully where we put down our feet and to avoid damage to the many daffodils that were sprouting up through the grass.

We had to hurry on and get into place, to be ready at the same time as other groups meeting to chant the same mantra at the same time around the world, last year at 7 events in Ireland, 6 others in England, in Scotland, Wales, Pakistan, 2 in India, 4 in Spain, 2 in Italy, 3 in Germany, Austria, Iceland, France, Brazil, Argentina, 2 in New Zealand, 5 in the USA, Canada and Australia. This year for the first time there was to be one in Egypt. Venus aims to keep the movement growing in order to reach "a Humongously Lovely Global Heart Warming Reclaim Love Event creating a Divine Web of Light joining us all in One Smile" on Saturday 14th 2015.

Everyone present, except for a few photographers, linked hands in a great circle joining the 13 trees and repeated together "May All The Beings In All The Worlds Be Happy And At Peace" for around five minutes, and then, still carefully avoiding the growing daffodils, began to party and dance in the centre of the tree circle.

At this point, two vans full of police drove up, and Venus rushed across to talk to them. Apparently the event was contravening a number of the bylaws of the Royal Parks, and it did not have the permissions needed. After Venus had talked to one of the officers for some time, explaining what they were doing and inviting them to join in, she gave him a hug (a picture I missed as I'd moved away to talk to a friend) and they eventually came to an agreement that the group would move out of the park by 4pm and make its way back to continue the party at Piccadilly Circus - exactly in fact as had been intended. As Venus walked away, treading carefully between the daffodils, the police turned towards their van and the officer who had been talking with Venus said to his colleagues: "I really thought I was in a parallel universe there" and indeed he had been.

Back in the circle people were still dancing, Dave was handing out cake and everyone was enjoying themselves. As Venus also wrote, this "is one of the most heart-warming highlights of the year in London. This beautiful non exclusive joining together of people from all walks of life of all ages nationalities, religions and social backgrounds has changed hearts and minds of so many who have attended and Reclaim Love has given Hope and Vision for a loving future." It's an event that sets out to reclaim love from commercial exploitation - it isn't about the expensive cards and gifts and Valentine menus and outings, but about getting together with other people.

Back at Eros, the music and dancing continued, and a large crowd gathered around to watch and some joined in. More musicians had arrived to join in, and there was some limbo dancing and as always it felt a very happy and welcoming event. I was sorry I had to leave while it was still continuing - the party went on until late.
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Global Day For Egypt

Trafalgar Square, London. Sat 12 Feb 2011

A woman holds a photograph of one of the hundreds killed in the Egyptian revolution and a bunch of red roses
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A crowd of several thousand in Trafalgar Square celebrated the success of the Egyptian revolution in removing Mubarak as a part of a Global Day of action organised by Amnesty International.

The event had been organised as a show of solidarity and defiance with the people of Egypt and the wider Middle East and North Africa. A group of those who had taken part in the demonstrations in Tahrir Square in Cairo that had finally led to the resignation of the Egyptian president, as well as those who had been a part of the Tunisian revolution that had sparked the Egyptian protests, received a huge welcome when they came on to the stage at Trafalgar Square.

Speakers, who included Salil Shetty of Amnesty International, trade unionists and members of oter partner organisations, reminded the crowds of the bravery of the demonstrators and the many who had been killed in attacks on them, and also stressed the need to keep up the fight for freedom in Egypt. Action is also needed to combat human rights abuses in other countries around the world, and among those joining in the celebrations were groups representing Burma and Iran as well as a large number of supporters of the Palestinian cause.
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Hizb ut-Tahrir Britain at Egyptian Embassy

South St, London. Saturday 5 Feb 2011

'Arab-Muslim leaders are traitors', 'The Ummah demands Khalifah'

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Soon I heard the sound of another demonstration taking place just a couple of yards down South Street, more or less filling the street from the Embassy to Park Lane. Hizb ut-Tahrir had turned up in force and as well as their usual black clad supporters there was a group of men dressed in orange Guantanamo jump suits and wearing the masks of the corrupt rulers of Arab states - including Hosni Mubarek, and around their necks placards with their names and states, a short description of their crimes and the consistent message: 'The Umma demands Khilafah - Not just a change of face'

The faces were those of Ali Abdulla Saleh (Yemen), Bashar al Assad (Syria), Mahmoud Abbas (Palestine), Hosni Mubarak (Egypt), King Abdullah Bin Abdul-Aziz (Saudi Arabia), Asif Ali Zardari (Pakistan), Hamid Karzai (Afghanistan) Abdullah II bin al-Hussein (Jordan) and Zine El Abidine Ben Ali (Tunisia) and most had their wrists tied together. Above them was a placard with the clear message: 'Arab-Mulsim Rulers Are Traitors'.

This was, as another placard made clear, not a rally in support of the current popular revolution taking place on the streets of Egypt, but a plea 'O Egyptian Army remove Mubarak - Establish AL-Khilafah'. Behind me as I, along with the rest of the press, took these pictures were painfully powerful loud speakers broadcasting an address, broadcasting the same policy.

While it is hard to deny the general condemnation of Arab rulers and their corrupt and largely dictatorial rule, for most of us - and for the people on the streets of Cairo the answer is a secular democracy rather than theocratic rule. And sadly two countries were notable absentees from their pantheon, Iraq and arguably the most corrupt and least democratic of all, Iran.
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Egyptian Embassy Demonstration

South St, London. Saturday 5 Feb 2011

Egyptians and friends show solidarity for the Egyptian revolution opposite the embassy

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Egyptians have been demonstrating all week opposite the Egyptian Embassy and today were joined by a Stop the War March from the US Embassy. Hizb ut-Tahrir came shortly after and held a separate large demonstration at the embassy.

When I arrived at the Egyptian embassy at around 3.15pm a noisy demonstration of several hundred people was taking place behind barriers in the street opposite its door. People were holding placards, chanting and shouting, calling for Mubarek to go and for victory for the Egyptian revolution. Most of the shouting and chanting was in Arabic, but the placards were largely in English.

It was crowded and noisy, with many of those present taking turns to lead the chanting, and men and women, including many younger women, were taking part, even if the leaders of the shouting were largely young and male. People were handing out dates (they were excellent) and free drinks, and there was a vibrant and welcoming atmosphere.

Things got considerably more crowded as the Stop the War led demonstration arrived, with hundreds of placards recording their 'solidarity with the Egyptian People' and there were also Lebanese flags along with those of Hezbollah.
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US Embassy Rally For Egypt

Grosvenor Square, London. Saturday 5 Feb 2011

Tariq Ali speaking at the rally at the US Embassy

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Around a thousand people gathered for a rally at the US Embassy where speakers castigated the USA for its support of the Mubarak government over the years and called for his immediate departure. From there they marched to join the protest at the Egyptian Embassy.

The main speech at the rally was a powerful address by Tariq Ali, who pointed repeatedly at the US Embassy for their support over the years for Mubarek, as well as warning that their current attempts to get him to leave were simply an attempt to replace him by the same corrupt group of rich and self-seeking Egyptians with a new - but already discredited - leader at the helm.

Other speakers represented Stop the War, the British Muslim Initiative and the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, and their speeches pointed out that Egypt is very much a part of a movement across the Arab world, triggered by the recent events in Tunisia, but also taking place in the Yemen and elsewhere. A speaker from Stop the War gave an eye-witness account from recent days in Cairo, and an Egyptian spoke movingly about what was happening there. Everyone agreeed that Mubarek must go, and the sooner the better, but it was vital to sweep out the current political elite and replace it with a secular democracy that would represent the ordinary people of the country.

During the meeting we heard news from Tahrir Square, including that tomorrow Muslims there would form a protective ring around Christians who would celebrate Mass there, just as yesterday the Christans protected the Muslims during Friday prayers.

The important role of women in the Egyptian revolution was also noted as a great advance for their position in society there and very much also an indication of the kind of equal, secular and democratic society the people are seeking.

The march set off in the opposite direction to the Egyptian embassy, taking a lengthy route around the West End for around an hour, while I took the direct route a few hundred yards down to the demonstration already taking place there.
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Islington Strikes Back Against Public Service Cuts

Holloway & Islington, London. Saturday 5 Feb 2011

Marching down the road from Holloway

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Over 400 Islington residents took part in a march from the Nags Head to a rally in Upper Street against the government cuts which will hit their borough particularly hard. The march was called by the Islington Hands Off Our Public Services Coalition (IHOOPS) who say the Islington will lose £335 million, equivalent to £4000 a year in vital services for every house in the borough.

Under threat are services for the elderly, teachers, youth workers, NHS mental health services, firemen, transport, libraries, welfare payments and many voluntary organisations.

IHOOPS is calling for privatisation plans to be halted and cuts to public services to be stopped. They urge the government to tackle the deficit by creating jobs, investing in housing, education, renewable energy and pubic transport, cracking down on the £120 billion of tax being evaded, avoided or simply not collected and ending wasteful vanity projects such as the Trident replacement and the throwing away of public funds in PFI projects and the employment of expensive consultants.

The march gathered at Nags Head on the Holloway Road and made its way down past Highbury and Islington station, where I left it. Among the four hundred or so in the march, pushing his bike, was Islington North MP Jeremy Corbyn who has represented the area since 1983, and was presumably to be one of the speakers at the rally at the end of the march on Islington Green.
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Shaker Aamer - 9 Years in Guantanamo

Downing St, London. Saturday 5 Feb 2011

Kate Hudson and Jean Lambert were among those at the vigil
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A vigil at Downing St today marked 9 years of torture and detention in Guantánamo Bay for the last UK resident held there, Shaker Aamer, whose wife and children are still living in Battersea. He has not been charged or tried for any offence.

Shaker Aamer fled his home in Saudi Arabia when he was 17, and after some years living in the USA, Europe and the Middle East married a British woman and settled down to raise a family here, having been granted leave to remain. He worked as an Arabic translator and then in June 2001 went to work for a few months for an Islamic charity in Kabul, leaving his pregnant wife and three children waiting for him in Battersea. More than nine and a half years later, they are still waiting; he has yet to see his youngest child, now nine years old.

There he was picked up by soldiers, beaten for a couple of weeks and then handed over to the Americans who tortured him for several months at Bagram Airforce base, during which he lost over 4 stones in weight, until he was ready to sign any piece of paper that was put in front of him. Nine years ago, in February 2002, he was transferred to Guantánamo where the torture continued, particularly after he was alleged to be one of the ringleaders in a hunger strike there, and he has been kept in solitary confinement in a small windowless cell for over five years.

His original captors only to have selected him as a foreigner for whom they could claim a reward, and there was never any real evidence against him, only the confessions beaten out of him by extreme torture. He has actually been cleared for release, but this has somehow never happened.

Both the previous UK government and the current Con-Dem coalition have stated that they have pressed for his release, but although they have done so in public, in private they are both alleged to have encouraged the US government to keep him in captivity. And although President Obama promised to shut down Guantánamo, he has failed to do so.

Both US and UK governments want to keep Aamer, an innocent man, locked up somewhere away from courts and the media because of the evidence he would give about both his own treatment and that of other prisoners at Guantánamo. His torture at Bagram was apparently carried out with the knowledge of and possibly in the presence of British agents, in violation of international law. But although his release might cause some embarrassment, his continued detention is a shameful crime against humanity.

The US would like to release him to Saudi Arabia from where he escaped so many years ago, as they know that there he would be looked after, locked away and 're-educated', probably to death. His mental and physical health has long been deteriorating, and he may well die at Guantánamo unless he is released soon.

By the time I left, around 20 protesters, including Kate Hudson of CND and London's Green MEP Jean Lambert had arrived and were handing out leaflets to passers by before delivering a letter to Downing Street calling on the government to take urgent action to get Aamer, the last Londoner in Guantánamo, back home to his family.
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All pictures on this section of the site are Copyright © Peter Marshall 2011; to buy prints or for permission to reproduce pictures or to comment on this site, or for any other questions, contact me.

my london diary index

Feb 2011

Freedom For All Arab Nations!
9/11 Truth Protest at Downing St
Hands Off Our NHS
UK Uncut Lecture in TSB
Libyan Embassy Protests
Jiro's Tokyo
Lambeth Protests Massive Council Cuts
Libyans Call For UK Action
Gaddafi Must Go Now!
Hackney Marches Against Cuts
London Street Photography Opens
Southbank Pans
Valentine Protest - We Love Public Services
Reclaim Love Pavement Party
Global Day For Egypt
Hizb ut-Tahrir at Egyptian Embassy
Egyptian Embassy Demonstration
US Embassy Rally For Egypt
Islington Strikes Back
Shaker Aamer - 9 Years in Guantanamo


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