No Cuts - Solidarity With The Greek Resistance

Europe House, Westminster, London. Wed 29 Feb 2012

Paul Mackney proved more than a match for the police in argument

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As a part of a European Trade Union Day of Action against ever-tougher austerity measures, trade unionists and activists held a lunchtime demonstration supporting the Greek resistance outside the European Commission office.

Around thirty protesters, including a number of Greeks, along with trade unionists and supporters of the Coalition of Resistance and the SWP held a lunchtime protest on the pavement outside the Smith Square offices of the European Commission and European Parliament.

The ETUC action took place on the eve of the meeting of the European Council, and is intended to bring attention to the tremendous social damage that austerity measures will call. They want the draft treaty to be discussed to be widened to include a strong social component. Earlier, ETUC General Secretary Bernadette Ségol stated: "Balanced budgets are necessary but austerity alone exacerbates imbalances. A policy of stimulation of the economy through investments should be the solution of choice.”

The London action outside Europe House in Smith Square, Westminster, was one of a number taking place today in 27 countries around Europe. Later in the afternoon a further protest in Solidarity with the Greek resistance was timed for the same place, following on from a vote taken at last Saturday's solidarity demonstration at the Greek Embassy.

Among the protesters as well as several Greeks living in London were PCS members from the nearby offices of DEFRA, and Paul Mackney and other supporters from the Coalition of Resistance. There were some barriers around an area a few yards away from the office, but the protesters decided to ignore them and gathered with banners outside the doorway. A man came out from the European offices and politely asked them to move away as the area outside the doorway was private land. After some discussion, the protesters agreed to keep the doorway clear but continued to protest immediately outside.

After the protest had been going almost half an hour, two police officers arrived and went inside briefly before coming out and talking to the protesters. They asked to speak to "the person in charge" and nobody was. Eventually Paul Mackney, vice chair Coalition of Resistance, began to talk with the police, suggesting to them that if we were on private land then it was no business of the police. It was the beginning of a long conversation about the legal niceties, the situation in Greece, and other related topics, with the officer continuing to ask the protesters to move across the road and Mackney and the protesters declining to do so, while pointing out they were taking care not to cause any problems.

The police were perhaps slightly hampered by not knowing where the boundary of the private land was, as there were no markings on the pavement to make any claim to it. They did however point out that permission is needed for protests in the area, and that none had been obtained for this event.

It was an entirely peaceful protest, allowing the protesters to make their point clearly by inconveniencing no one. As was pointed out, the police - more had by now arrived - were actually causing more of a problem by partly obstructing the roadway outside with their car and bikes.

Surprisingly the debate with the police continued until around 1.50pm, when the protesters told the police that they had always intended to leave at 2pm. At which the police seemed rather relieved, and even more so when everybody packed up and walked away.
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Pancakes in the City - Leadenhall Market

Leadenhall Market, City of London. Tues 21 Feb 2012

Occasionally it became more of an obstacle race as tourists wandered through the market
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The race in Leadenhall Market is a team relay with four legs, though some teams had only three members so one had to run twice. The pancake had to be tossed three times on each run, and people seemed to be sticking the the rules despite the lack of referees. Although it lacked the costumes of the Guildhall event, people did seem to be having rather more fun, perhaps because the event was organised by the Lamb Tavern at the centre of the market. First opened in 1309, it was redeveloped along with the rest of the market in fine Victorian style in 1881, and finely restored in 1991.

As well as the race, there was also a good supply of free pancakes to eat, and although I'm not really a pancake fan, I did enjoy one, perhaps more down to the sugar and lemon juice than the pancake.

The race takes place along a short course along the centre of the market, and tourists and others wandering through make it difficult to keep the course clear. The teams come from offices in the area and businesses in the market itself, including a team from the Lamb, from the shoe shine stall outside and the cheese shop next to the other end of the course. The Lamb Tavern provides the prizes, the first being a £75 voucher to spend in their restuarant, the second £50 to spend in the bar and third a bottle of champagne.

The prizes caused a slight problem in the final, between the shoe shiners and the cheese shop teams, when at the first attempt the cheese shop team made no attempt to compete, simply walking the course, as the wanted the bar tab rather than the restuarant voucher. Some haggling followed and a re-run was demanded - and after the Lamb had agreed both teams would get the bar money there was a close-fought battle for the honour of winning, won narrowly for the second year in the short history of the race by the team from the shoe stall.
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Pancakes in the City - Guildhall

Guildhall Yard, City of London. Tues 21 Feb 2012

The Worshipful Company of Furniture Makers get ready for the inter-livery pancake races
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Members of the various City of London Livery companies showed the City at its most competitive in what has now became a tradition of inter-livery pancake races on Shrove Tuesday, organised by the Worshipful Company of Poulters.

The annual pancake race as started by the Poulters in 2004. The Gunmakers start each heat using a miniature cannon (which can make a very loud bang), the Clockmakers hold stopwatches to time the races , the Fruiterers provide lemons, the Cutlers plastic forks, the Glovers white gloves required to be worn by each runner, while the Poulters provide the eggs essential to make the pancakes. Where the flour, butter and milk and sugar to sprinkle on those that are eaten rather than raced comes from is something of a mystery, presumably from event catering company ‘The Cook and The Butler’ who share in the organisation of the event which raises funds for the annual Lord Mayor's charity. This year the primary beneficiary is the Barts and The London Charity, on behalf of the Trauma Unit at The Royal London Hospital.

Proper decorum is of course observed, though in a departure from previous years, ladies competing were allowed to wear long trousers - previously they had been required to have skirts reaching below the knee. But contestants are required to wear hats for the event, and there is a special Novelty Race, where contestants are afterwards judged on the novelty of their hats.

This year the Lord Mayor was abroad and his place at the event was taken by Alderman Sir Michael Savory, who ably demonstrated his pancake tossing skills. Also present was the Chief Commoner, who is responsible for the Guildhall yard where there races take place.

Although this particular race is of recent origin, pancake races on Shrove Tuesday are thought to date back at least five or six hundred years. Pancake Day is the day before Ash Wednesday, the start of Lent, during which people fasted from eggs and butter and stocks of these were finished off by making pancakes.
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More Staines Moors

Shortwood Common & Staines Moor, Middx. Sun 19 Feb 2012

The pond at Shortwood Common is an SSSI
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Shortwood Common is another of the preserved areas of open land around Staines, now part of our green belt. It is now cut into two parts by the A316 Staines Road West. The pond, thought to have been made for gravel extraction, has over 50 plant species growing in it and is one of only five or six ponds where the small sedge, brown galingale (Cyperus fuscus) can still be found, though threatened by invasive species. The common, together with Knowle Green, Birch Green and Staines Moor is one of the largest areas of alluvial meadows in Surrey (though it is really in Middlesex.)

Across the Crooked Billet roundabout is the 1896 waterworks building, a joint enterprise of the Three Rivers, Grand Junction and West Middlesex water companies who built the first Staines reservoir. It isn't easy to get a good clear view of the building from outside the fence.

We walked under the bypass beside the Colne, only to find the path we have used for more that 30 years blocked by a new fence, with work still continuing beside the large pipe bridges that cross the river here. Fortunately it was possible to swing around the end of the fence to access Staines Moor. We came off the moor under the bridge under the bypass and took the lane leading to the Herdsman's Cottage on Moor Lane, taking the path opposite and walking around over the aqueduct and alongside it, recrossing it to enter the Lammas Lands, where more worked out gravel pits have been made into a public open space.
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Reclaim Love - Occupy Your Heart!

Piccadilly Circus, London. Sat 18 Feb 2012

Venus handing out free t-shirts at the event

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A large crowd gathered around Eros in Piccadilly Circus to celebrate love and life in protest against the commercialisation of love on St Valentine's Day and to party and meditate joyfully for world happiness and peace.

This was the ninth 'Reclaim Love' event, an annual series of demonstrations begun by Venus CúMara in London, which has since spread. Today at the same time there were similar events in Manchester, Camarthen, Glastonbury, Oxford, Totnes, Germany, Ireland, Slovenia, Goa and the USA, and probably elsewhere, with messages of support coming in from around the world.

All of them reach their peak at 3.30pm British time, when each group taking part in all the places around the world simultaneously join hands and repeat a mantra for peace for around 15 minutes. In the words of Reclaim Love:

"United worldwide by our Love of Love, and with a universal prayer for the peace and happiness of All beings, we play together and say together and visualise together what our words could become, as we say with all our hearts, in our own languages:

May All The Beings in All The Worlds Be Happy and At Peace

These words and dreams become the Seeds of Love that we plant together in this Earth for the good of all those born and unborn.

This moment has got to be one of the most beautiful unifying, shared experiences on Earth at this time."

Afterwards the party continues, and it was still going strong when I left, although shortly afterwards the rain which had been continuous and light became torrential for a short period.

Many of those who attend come in various forms of party dress, and Venus brings hundreds of free 'Reclaim Love' t-shirts to hand out. There is also plenty of free food, with the Hare Krishna coming to dish out their vegetarian grub as well as various individuals handing out biscuits. Others offer free face=painting or free hugs, and of course there is music, both from a large samba band, with personnel from three leading bands including Rhythms of Resistance who played a very lengthy set, and also from a bicycle hauled sound and P/A system.

Eros (actually the figure with the bow is Anteros, his twin brother the god of selfless love) was soon presiding over a number of banners carefully attached to the fountain below.

On the Reclaim Love web site Venus tells the story of how as a young poetess she listened to "a wise older man talking about our collective consciousness and how it is affected by a particular number of people focusing on one thing at one time." He talked of this idea of a "critical mass of people" and how it was used by "politicians, military, corporations and media to manipulate and install a sense of fear, racism, hatred, greed and lack in people."

She decided to create the 'Reclaim Love' movement as an experiment to try and build up a critical mass of people around the world "to end wars and to bring lasting peace, love and harmony back to her people and her planet." And it does perhaps seem reasonable that if enough people around the world can be persuaded that this should happen it would make some difference in how we all act.

The number at today's event in London was rather smaller than expected, with the wet weather probably putting some off. A sizable group came from Occupy London, and Venus sees the Occupy Movement as Reclaim Love in action. On her web site she writes:

"The only foundation strong enough in this world is Love for all of Life. We need to replace the old failed systems with a system that is based on Love, Truth, Caring and Equality for our species to survive and be strong, vibrant, peaceful and happy.

As a symbol of this new life, Venus announced in her invitation that everyone at the event would receive a seed of love to plant a Tree in a little pot to care for and to love and to create a forest of Love."

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Shaker Aamer - 10 years in Guantanamo

US Embassy, Grosvenor Square, London. Tues 14 Feb 2012

Protesters with a Valentine's day message for Obama at the US Embassy
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Protesters delivered a Valentine card for President Obama at the US Embassy, demanding the release of British resident Shaker Aamer, held and ill-treated in Guantanamo for 10 years today and still in solitary confinement.

Shaker Aamer, a refugee from Saudi Arabia, was granted the legal right to stay in the UK in 1996, and was applying for British citizenship when he went as a charity worker with his family to dig wells and support a girls school in Afghanistan in June 2001. After the US began to bomb Afghanistan following the 9/11 attack that year, he sent his family home, and then tried to follow them.

While trying to leave the country he was captured by Afghans, who tortured him and sold him to US forces for a US $5000 bounty. In US hands he was tortured in the notorious "dark" prison in Kabul, and then in Bagram and Kandahar, at times with British agents present, before being one of the first detainees to be taken to Guantanamo, arriving there on St Valentines Day, Feb 14, 2002, exactly ten years ago today. He is still there in solitary confinement despite being cleared for release in 2007.

In Guantanamo, along with the other residents he was subjected to the regime of orange jump suits, chains, ear muff, shackles, blindfolds and nappies, harsh conditions and acts of cruelty, torture and deprivation.

Although there has never been any evidence found to link him with terrorist activities, in Guantanamo Shaker has protested against the conditions and acted as a spokes-person for the other detainees, as well as organising a Prisoner's Council. Because of his actitivies there he was put into solitary confinement for five years.

Shaker's US lawyer, Brent Micklum has stated "Shaker is still being tortured down there. Shaker has been jailed as long as anyone, under-going regular torture from beating to food and sleep deprivation. There isn't a shred of evidence against him."

What Shaker does have is a great deal of evidence against both the US for their use of torture against him and others, and also against the UK agents who were present when he was tortured. It is perhaps because of this that despite his being cleared for release by both the Bush and the Obama administrations he is still there. There are reports that the US, despite his UK resident status - and his wife and four children living in Battersea - have tried to deport him to Saudi Arabia where he would be expected to disappear without trace.

Liberal Democrat MEP for London and vice-chair of the European Parliament's delegation to the US Sarah Ludford has said:

"The continued existence of Guantanamo is a stain on the record and reputation of President Obama, a lawyer whose attachment to human rights was celebrated early in his Presidency by the Nobel peace prize award. It is an outrage that my constituent Shaker Aamer remains incarcerated in Guantanamo and separated from his family in London a decade after he was sold by bounty-hunters and having been charged with no crime."

"It is also an utter mystery why it is so hard to rectify this terrible injustice and breach of habeas corpus between 2 close allies who both pledge respect for the rule in their domestic law and international obligations. It is desperately hypocritical that these principles are repeatedly declared as shared in the Transatlantic Alliance while a man never charged let alone tried has been kept in solitary confinement and allegedly tortured with British collusion."

On St Valentine's Day, the 10th anniversary of his arrival into illegal detention at Guantanamo, the 'Save Shaker Aamer Campaign' organised an event outside the US Embassy in London. Around 35 protesters in orange jumpsuits walked in a circle outside the embassy for over an hour to the beat of a drum, shouting at intervals 'Free Shaker Aamer'.

A Valentine card for President Obama calling for his release, including photographs of many protests over his detention was then handed in to the Embassy by Kate Hudson, the chair of CND, and Joy Hurcombe, the chair of the Save Shaker Aamer Campaign.

Joy Hurcome was then the first speaker at a rally outside the embassy, urging all those present to write to their MPs and to the Prime Minister, Foreign Secretary, President Obama and Hilary Clinton urging the release of Shaker Aamer. She also pointed out that William Hague had misled the House of Commons in a reply to a question when he had stated that he was not being held in solitary confinement. Possibly he had failed to understand or been misled by his advisers that although the US do not use that term, it is how anyone else would describe the way that he is being treated.

Hurcombe described the terrible conditions under which he has been held, and also reported that he is in very poor health, resulting from his mistreatment and also the hunger strikes he has made in protest at this. There are strong fears that unless he is released soon he may die in Guantanamo. The rally was continuing when I had to leave.
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Waitrose Told Break Up With Shell

Waitrose, Tottenham Court Rd, London. Tues 14 Feb 2012

Climate Rush protesters with Deeds Not Words sash hand out 'oily' biscuits outside Waitrose

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Climate Rush handed out heart-shaped 'oily' biscuits to customers outside a central London Waitrose store today, calling on the company to end its partnership with Shell.

Climate Rush handed out the biscuits, some with a message and others with simply a pink heart to customers entering the newly opened store on Tottenham Court Road, along with a small flyer explaining their action.

I joined the small group of protesters on the street corner before the protest, and watched them assemble a multi-layer cake tray and load it up with the biscuits which one of them had baked and iced. I then walked with them to the door of the supermarket where they handed out biscuits and liquids to customers entering and leaving.

Two police officers came to take a look and ask the Climate Rushers what they were doing, but decided it wasn't a problem, though I did notice when I left that as well as a van full of police outside Waitrose there was another full of them a couple of hundred yards down the road.

The biscuits weren't really oily, but very sugary. Some had messages in their icing including 'SHELL IS HELL', 'NO (heart) FOR OIL', 'BITE ME SHELL', 'WAITROSE + SHELL = HELL' and 'CLIMATE RUSH'.

With their biscuit, the customers also got an explanation of why the Climate Rushers were protesting. The leaflet praised Waitrose for its serious emission targets and commitment to fair trade and local produce, as well as its worker co-ownership and shared profits, but continues:

"But one thing about Waitrose is breaking our hears. It's struck up a new partnership with Shell - the oil company responsible for human rights abuses and massive oil spills in the Niger Delta and skyrocketing carbon emissions (they've pulled every single investment in sustainable energy resources.)"

The partnership with Shell included Waitrose stores on Shell forecourts and joint marketing campaigns.

The Rushers asked the customers to please "remind Waitrose that nothing says 'I love you' less than than Shell. Join us in asking Waitrose to end this bad romance!
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Disabled Protest Loss of ILF

Caxton House, Westminster, London. Monday 13 Feb 2012

A protester reads the letter they are to deliver to Maria Miller

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Disabled people delivered a letter for Maria Miller (Minister for Disabled People) opposing the ending of the Independent Living Fund on which thousands of disabled depend and protested outside her Westminster ministry. London, UK. 13/02/2012

The protest was organised by 'Disabled People Against Cuts' (DPAC) and was supported by many individuals and organisations, although only around 35 were able to attend. Many more had signed the letter which was delivered, including at least over 50 people or parents of those receiving ILF, 55 UK disability organisations, six representatives of European disability organisations as well as academics, many disabled people, carers and care assistants and other supporters, including 3 Welsh Assambly members and MPs Dave Anderson and Jim Sheridan. More may have signed since these details were released a month ago.

It was cold and raining slightly as a number of people in wheelchairs and other disabled, along with some carers and supporters, gathered outside the doorway of Caxton House, The Department of Work and Pensions, a few minutes walk from Parliament.

Some held placards with 'Wanted' posters. One showed Maria Miller, 'Wanted For Crimes Against Disabled People' and another featured 'The Slash and Burn Gang' of Ian Duncan Smith, Maria Miller, Paul Barstow and Andrew Lansley, and offered a reward. Another 'Missing' poster featured Miller as 'Minister AGAINST Disabled People.

It was a very long letter that was read out, making the point that the decision to end the ILF by 2015 (it was closed to new applicants in May 2010) had been "taken with no evidence of an equality impact assessment having taken place nor any consultation carried out with current and potential beneficiaries of the fund."

ILF is a ring fenced resource for disabled people with high support needs and without it many more disabled people will need residential care or family carers will be forced to leave their jobs and rely on low rates of benefit. Minister for Disabled people, Maria Miller, had promised that users would be consulted in 2010-11, but ILF users have heard little or nothing of this - and could only find out about the consultation by making a Freedom of Information request. The consultation has been over the development of something called the 'Personal Independence Payment', the development of which "is still ongoing."

The letter pointed out that leaving severely disabled people in such anxiety over their futures is a violation of their human rights set out in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and in particular Articles 4, 17 and 19.

The letter finishes with around ten short case studies showing how the ILF enables disabled people to live useful and independent lives - and how its loss would hit them - as one says, "it really is a return to the dark ages." Several of those present at the rally also spoke, giving details of what the loss of ILF will mean to them.

As the protesters pointed out, losing ILF would not make the savings that the government has suggested. The government say scrapping ILF will save £330m a year, but DPAC suggest this would be outweighed by the increased need for residential care - which could be as much as £750m - as well as a loss in tax revenue as many disabled and carers would be forced to give up work. There would also be increased costs for the NHS as more disabled people are denied overnight care and there would be greatly increased health problems with their associated costs.

Maria Miller was not in her office to receive the letter, but an official came out onto the doorstep to take it in, with a female colleague hovering inside the doorway, and promised it would be delivered to her. He rather quickly went back inside when some of the protesters started asking him questions.
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Defend Freedom of Expression

Old Palace Yard, Westminster, London. Sat 11 Feb 2012

Pragna Patel of Southall Black sisters speaking in front of a 'Jesus and Mo' cartoon
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One Law for All held a rally with around 500 present opposite Parliament today in defence of free expression, following increasing censorship prompted by Islamists in the UK.

I arrived some time after the event had started, but speeches were continuing, listened to attentively and applauded by a large audience. It was an event to defend freedom of expression, which seems increasingly to be under attack as various of our authorities take action following complaints by Islamists.

Among the cases mentioned was a 17 year old who was threatened with expulsion by his Sixth Form College unless he removed a 'Jesus and Mo' cartoon and a similar demand the the University College London Union that its Atheist Society removed a cartoon from its Facebook page. Apparently the cartoon showed both religious leaders drinking in a pub. Also, 'One Law for All' was forced to cancel a meeting at Queen Mary College where there was to be a speech about Sharia Law after threats of violence from some Muslim extremists.

As their leaflet says, complaints by Islamists against what for most of us would be part of our normal freedom of speech are not new, but they see a disturbing trend in "the support received from universities and other bodies in the name of false tolerance, cultural sensitivity and respect." As they also say "The right to criticise religion... is a fundamental right that is crucial to many, including Muslims."

The event was also a part of a wider international Day of Action For Free Expression, with other events in Melbourne, Brazil, Paris, Gambia, Germany, Warsaw (and elsewhere in Poland), Portugal, South Africa and the US. In the UK the Day of Action was endorsed by nearly 100 groups and individuals including Jessica Ahlquist, Richard Dawkins, Equal Rights Now, Taslima Nasrin, National Federation of Atheist, Humanist and Secular Student Societies, National Secular Society, Salman Rushdie, Southall Black Sisters, and Peter Tatchell.

The protest was sponsored by the Richard Dawkins Foundation and although there were a number of excellent speeches, a few of the speakers I heard did take the opportunity to criticise religions in general and Christianity in particular. Rather than supporting freedom of expression, some of the speakers gave me the impression they were on an anti-religious crusade in a way I felt was unsuitable at an event dedicated to freedom of speech; atheist bigots are surely no more acceptable than religious ones. As the leaflet being given out states "Clearly, the time has come to take a firm and uncompromising stand for free expression and against all forms of threats and censorship."

The final speech of the event (of over 30) was by Maryam Namazie of One Law for All and the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain.
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Stop ACTA - London Protest

British Music House, Berners St, London. Sat 11 Feb 2012

A protester wears an 'Anonymous' mask and a pirate patch

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Hundreds protested outside the British Music House against ACTA, an international agreement on property rights which they see as protecting the rights of giant corporations against creators and ordinary citizens with draconian enforcement powers.

ACTA , the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, has been largely developed in secret without any public debate through high-level negotiations between major countries including United States, the European Community, Switzerland, Japan, Australia, the Republic of Korea, New Zealand, Mexico, Jordan, Morocco, Singapore, the United Arab Emirates, and Canada. Its details reflect the extensive lobbying of major film and music companies, drug manufacturers and other multinational companies. There has been little if any representation from either the artists and others who actually create the intellectual property from which these companies profit, or the general public who pay for them.

A major driving force behind ACTA has been the failure of the music and film industries to develop effective new ways of working with the Internet rather than simply try to buttress their old ways of working. Recently this has led to ridiculous and vindictive attacks on some of those involved even in a very peripheral role in the downloading of copyright material from the web - including sending those who linked to download sites to prison.

The protesters also see ACTA as presenting a threat to free speech on the Internet, and fear it would be used to allow governments much more control over material put on the web. ACTA also has major implications apart from those on web freedom. In particular it would be used to prevent the production of cheap drugs which have a vital role in treating disease in the majority world. It would also make it possible to prevent the making of parodies, which would stop proper creative and critical engagement with cultural works.

The protest, part of an International Day of Action against ACTA follows a number of protests elsewhere, particularly in Poland, where huge protests caused a change in the mind of the Prime Minister, and along with the Czech government they have decided to put plans to ratify it on hold. Following protests in Germany the government there have delayed signing. There were further protests in Berlin today, along with other cities across Europe including Helsinki, Vilnius, Glasgow and Nottingham.

Many of the roughly 500 at the London protest in Berners St opposite the British Music House which houses groups including the Music Publishers Association and the Performing Rights Society for Music had come with 'Anonymous' V for Vendetta masks. The protest was initiated by an Anonymous group calling themselves 'Stop Acta For Freedom' who worked on the details with the 'Open Rights Group', and was joined by the 'Pirate Party UK'.

I left shortly after the speeches started, with Loz Kaye, Leader of the Pirate Party UK, and himself a musician, speaking.

After the peaceful static protest in Berners St, the protesters went on an unplanned march around London, visiting the US Embassy, Buckingham Palace, Westminster and ending at the St Paul's Occupy London camp, all with a strong police escort.
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Victory to the Intifada Picket

Marks & Spencers, Oxford St, London. Sat 11 Feb 2012

A shopper stops to sign the petition on the stall

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Victory to the Intifada continued their regular presence outside M&S's Oxford St flagship store started in 2000. This week's protest also stressed solidarity with Syrian, Iran and Somalia.

The protests showing solidarity with Palestine began at the start of the Al Aqsa Intifad in 2000, and have continued once or twice a week since then on the wide pavement outside Marks and Spencers in Oxford St. The location was chosen as this British High Street institution is Britain's largest corporate backer of Zionist initiatives in Israel.

They urge shoppers to oppose British support for Israel and to boycott Israeli goods and support the Palestinian people's right to self-determination.

In today's protest they also wanted to raise their voices against the attacks currently threatened by some in Britain and the US on Syria, Iran and Somalia.
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Amnesty Protest For Human Rights

Trafalgar Square, London. Sat 11 Feb 2012

Muslim women carrying posters for Free Syria

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Amnesty International held a large rally Trafalgar Square in solidarity with protesters in Syria, Egypt and elsewhere, including a large group of Syrians calling for an end to the attacks on Homs, Egyptians and others, one of 21 similar events around the world.

There were stalls in the square and speakers from Egypt, Libya, Syria, Palestine and Bahrain as well as the UK. Numbers in the square increased considerably when a group of several hundred waving Syrian freedom flags arrived at the rally, for a time taking over the central area of the square completely with chanting and jumping up and down calling for Asad to go, before settling down to take part in the Amnesty rally.

Later the Syrians formed a large circle in the square around clock tower representing that in Homs, where Clock Square has been at the centre of the protests, and danced around it. On the stage in front of Nelson's Column there were speakers and groups of protesters from various countries came to address the enthusiastic crowd, and there were live link ups to protesters in two Syrian towns.

There were similar rallies in major cities across Europe, as well as in Iceland, Morocco, Nepal, Peru and Paraguay. Salil Shetty, Amnesty International's Secretary General addressed the rally saying:

"Our message to the people of the Middle East and North Africa is that you are not alone in your struggle. We are with you."

"Our message to the governments of the Middle East and North Africa is that you will be held to account. The world is watching."
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IWW Cleaners Demand 'Reinstate Alberto'

Heron Tower, Bishopsgate, London. Friday 10 Feb 2012

Protesters included cleaners "thrown out with the rubbish" by NTT Communications
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Cleaners and supporters protested during the evening rush hour outside the City's tallest building, the Heron Tower, where IWW Branch Secretary Alberto Durango has been sacked, victimised for his trade union activities.

Alberto Durango has become well known for his campaigning activities in and around the City of London, which have helped to secure better working conditions and the London Living Wage for many of the cleaners who work in London's prestigious offices. He became the Industrial Workers of the World Cleaners and Allied Trades Branch Secretary and was working at the Heron Tower. Last August the IWW won its fight for the London Living wage for the cleaners there, and in November the IWW egotiated an agreement with the cleaning contractor LCC that there would be no compulsory redundancies and any staff reductions would be by transfers to alternative posts.

A new contractor, Incentive FM Group Ltd has now taken over the cleaning at Heron Tower, and although under the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations (TUPE) the agreement should have continued to be recognised, they have failed to do so and have picked on Alberto for redundancy.

Their action is thought by the trade union be connected with the current campaign the IWW is pursuing at Exchange Tower for the London Living Wage, as this shares the same management as Heron Tower, and has taken a very aggressive stance against the IWW there, threatening some IWW members with investigations.

More than 50 people attended the protest, including members of Rhythms of Resistance, whose street band sounds added to the noise of the protest and attracted the attention of many city workers on their way home both on the street and in the many buses that were queing for long periods because of the extensive road works in the city.

There was also a group of cleaners supporting Alberto Durango who have recently been sacked from the City offices of NTT Communications. Their posters read that they "had been thrown out like rubbish."

As well as Alberto Durango himself addressing the meeting, there was also support from branches of other trade unions, including the RMT and Unite. The protest was a peaceful one, and the two City of London police in attendance had nothing to do. Security staff at Heron Tower were also generally fairly relaxed, although at one point one did rush out to tear down one of the posters that he saw I was photographing, and I and other photographers as well as the protesters weres several times told politely but firmly to get off of the half of the pavement that was their property.

Further protests and possibly other actions are expected to take place to get Alberto Durango reinstated and persuade Incentive FM Group to meet their legal obligations under TUPE.
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Occupy London & Other Pictures

St Paul's Cathedral, London. Friday 10 Feb 2012

The side of the information tent At St Paul's: Caution Art
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Everything was quiet when I walked through the site late on Friday afternoon, and there seemed fewer people around than I expected, and a few less tents than on previous visits. There was also far less art on display than in the camp's heyday, with the pillars alongside now all entirely cleared. It seems almost certain that the legal proceedings will soon allow for their eviction.

I didn't stay as I was on my way to a protest in Bishopsgate, and expected to see some of the Occupy people were there, but if so I didn't notice them. So these are just a few images as I passed through, along with a few more as I walked around London.
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Release The Bologna 12

Italian Embassy, Grosvenor Square, London. Wed 8 Feb 2012

The protesters gathered at the back door of the embassy in Grosvenor Square
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A protest at the Italian Embassy called for the release of the Bologna 12, accused of "subversive association for purposes of terrorism" for their membership of communist organisations under a law dating from the Mussolini regime.

The twelve whose trial opened at the Assize Court of Bologna today are accused of belonging to the (new) Italian Communist Party, (n)PCI or related organisations CARC and ASP. The charges are an attempt to outlaw the communist organisations and make membership of them a criminal act.

The charges against the accused were thrown out in preliminary hearings in July 2008, as there were no specific acts that they were charged with, but were re-instated by the Supreme Court in January 2011. The charges are made under section 270bis of the Penal code introduced by the Fascist regime under Mussolini. They were brought as a part of a long campaign by Public Prosecutor Paolo Giovagnoli for the Authorities of the Papal Republic, aimed against freedom of expression and organisation of the left in Italy.

If the 12 are found guilty, indictments will be issued against other members of the (n)PCI and related organisations. Other groups outside the "official" left - autonomous groups including the Anarchists and Maoists and new formations such as the Occupy movement will also be targeted by this attempt to criminalise any radical thought or action.

A dozen people came with banners and placards to hold a token protest outside the Italian Embassy in the early evening, representing several groups including 'Democracy and Class War', 'Socialist Fight' and 'Irish Republican Prisoners Support Group'. The began the protest outside the impressive 'back door' of the embassy in Grosvenor Square, but after 20 minutes were found by police who told them that they were supposed to be protesting outside the main entrance to the embassy complex in Three Kings Yard, which was the location they had given in their notice.

The protesters had come to hand in a letter of protest to the Ambassador and a man came out of the back door and told them that this would have to be handed in at Three Kings Yard, so the protest moved around the block to there. Two of those present then went inside the gates and handed over the letter to the embassy reception.

The letter protested against the persecution against dissent, the freedom of expression and association, and continued by stating that scaremongering about terrorism and using this as a justification for attacks on communists and those who protest "makes us remember the times when Mussolini and who supported him firstly outlawed Communists and then eliminated every party and the Parliament itself, when the fascists were calling "bandits" the Partisans (most of whom were Communists) who fought to free Italy from Nazi-fascism."

They stated that this prosecution is a clear violation of any democratic principle and attacks the fundamental principles of the Italian Constitution concerning freedom of political association and organization.

The protest was continuing outside the embassy when I left.
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Parliament Square Peace Protests - No War in Iran

Parliament Square, London. Wed 8 Feb 2012

A protester at the Brian Haw's Peace Camp holds down the notice about police stealing their tents

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Peace protesters in the two peace camps in Parliament Square are continuing their 24/7 protests despite police removal of all tents from the Parliament Square Peace Campaign. The Peace Strike supports a weekly protest at the Foreign Office against war on Iran.

Brian Haw's Parliament Square Peace Campaign is still keeping up its 24hr vigil and was on Day 3903 of its historic protest when I talked briefly with Babs Tucker and two other supporters, still there despite the police removal of their tents, chairs and anything else that could give them comfort on Jan 16th. They are angered by what they see as the 'kid-glove' preferential treatment accorded by the police to the neighbouring 'Peace Strike' campaign, which they describe on a notice on the pavement as the 'Police Camp'.

Maria Gallastegui who was for some years a regular supporter of Brian Haw at the Peace Campaign, began her separate Peace Strike several years ago and a rift developed between her and Brian Haw. She has cooperated with the police in various ways - including covering her displays for last year's royal wedding, and her case against the police resulted in an injuction which restrains the actions against her untill the case is heard in mid-March, so police have left one tent and her large 'peace' box - modelled on the old police boxes - on the square.

The Peace Campaign claim that their own legal claim was intentionally delayed by the police so that they could take action against them before it could be considered by the court. They accuse the police of lying and of devious and underhand actions throughout the ten and a half years of their present in the square, some of which have been well-recorded by independent sources.

The three people at the Peace Strike were enjoying a mug of tea in their peace box before making their way to their weekly protest with others opposite the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in King Charles Street to remind Foreign Secretary William Hague of their opposition to war in Iran.

There they joined a small group of other protesters and put up their banners on the protest pen before starting to chant noisily, one of them rolling up a poster to make a large megaphone to project his shouting in the right direction while two others waved large peace flags and others held placards. The protest was continuing as I left.
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Stop NHS Privatisation - Kill Lansley's Bill

Old Palace Yard, Westminster, London. Wed 8 Feb 2012

Pensioners in the protest outside Parliament
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A protest took place outside parliament as debates continued on the Health and Social Care Bill today, with protesters holding a mock trial of Andrew Lansley and making brief protests on the road crossings in Parliament Square.

Hackney Keep Our NHS Public had organised a protest outside Parliament on for the day that the Bill was due to reach report stage, and over fifty people from groups around London and the rest of the country - including Leeds and Sheffield brought banners to join them. Shadow public health minister Diane Abbott MP came out briefly to hold the Hackney banner.

After some chanting of slogans and a line-up of banners in front of Parliament there was a mock trial of Andrew Lansley for his sins against the Health Service and for his plans to sell it off. The judge had an impressive white wig and there were several witnesses for the prosecution, who spoke about their own experiences as patients and workers in the NHS. Lansley was accused of wanting to dismantle the welfare state, perhaps one of the greatest British acheivements of the last century and still the envy of much of the world, providing quality healthcare at a fraction of the cost of the US system which he appears to see as a model, and providing it to the whole population regardless of their ability to pay expensive medical insurance.

After the trial, some of those present sang some songs, and then a small group took the protest around Parliament Square, walking onto the various pedestrian crossings and facing the traffic holding up placards and the letters 'S', 'T', 'O' and 'P', usually but not quite always in that order. One police officer got just a little uptight as they stood across the crossing in Parliament St, but they took care only to stand in the road when the pedestrian crossing lights were at green, and moved off the roadway when the lights changed, and the couple of officers who followed them around were more relaxed.

It was a cold afternoon, close to zero, and after a couple of hours the number of protesters, many of whom were elderly, was rapidly dropping by the time I left a couple of hours after it started.
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Ukrainians Told 'Release Hunger Strikers'

Ukrainian Embassy, Holland Park, London. Monday 6 Feb 2012

Protesters outside the Ukrainian Embassy with placards

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Protesters at the Ukrainian Embassy called for the immediate release of Somali refugees on hunger strike in the Lutsk Dentention Centre who have been beaten and intimidated by police.

58 Somalian refugees started a hunger strike in the Lutsk detention centre on Jan 6, along with another 15 at a second centre. They included 13 women and 24 under 18s; two of the remaining 11 women taking part are now reported to be seriously ill.

Their strike is against a system which is profoundly unjust and in breach of Ukraine's international obligations. They claim that Somalians are always refused asylum in Ukraine and if they try to cross from there to the EU they are sent back to Ukraine, where they are detained for 12 months for not having a temporary permit to stay. After release they can be again arrested and face a further 12 months detention.

They demand that the Somalian asylum seekers be demanded asylum status in Ukraine, in line with the European Court of Human Rights determination that any Somali national is in need of international protection, and his/her return to Mogadishu would constitute a violation of Article 3 of Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms which is binding upon all the Member States of the Council of Europe, including Ukraine. The also demand that they be released from detention and provided with documents so that they will not be rearrested following release, and for an end to police harassment.

On Jan 30, around 20 police wearing masks and carrying teargas and guns came into the detention centre and forced the hunger strikers out of their rooms, taking some personal items. The refugees reported

"Some of us were punched by hand, others kicked by boots, and others hit by sticks. They threatened us saying that we have to go to the dining room and eat. They forced some of the boys to eat. The boys went to the dining room, saying 'these people will kill us'. Ten of the boys went to the dining room and the police took some pictures of the boys eating. We think the Government want to use the pictures for propaganda. The Government also want to provoke us so we fight and they can see we are hooligans. The policemen are still here in Lutsk, and we don’t know if they are temporary or permanent."

The protest outside the London embassy is one of a number showing international solidarity with the refugees; another is planned for Berlin on Wednesday and others in Munich and Frankfurt are expected shortly. In the hour I was at the protest around 15 people turned up to show their solidarity and urge the Ukraine government to act. They included a Somali woman, but I had to leave before a former Somali government minister who was on his way to join the protest arrived. The protesters wanted to hand a letter to the Ukrainian ambassador, but while I was there the two police in attendance reported that the embassy was not prepared to accept a letter from the protesters. The protesters were still trying to negotiate for the embassy to take the letter when I had to leave, but the point had been made that people and organisations in this country are aware of the situation over refugees in the Ukraine and expect that country to meet its international obligations towards them. If the embassy could not be persuaded to take the letter from the protesters it would be posted to them.

The Somalian refugees' case is supported by Human Rights Watch, the UNHCR, Amnesty International, the Ukrainian Refugee Council and the Border Monitoring Project Ukraine as well as many individuals. On 23 Jan German MEP Rebecca Harms, co-president of the The Greens–European Free Alliance group in the European parliament, wrote an open letter to the Minister of Internal Affairs of Ukraine expression her concerns and pointing out that the denial of asylum is a direct violation of the Convention on Human Rights and that the detention of immigrants from Somalia who are seeking asylum in Ukraine is illegal and in violation of Ukraine's internation obligations.
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Staines Walk In The Snow

Staines, Middlesex.Sunday 5 Feb 2012

Staines Moor on a snowy Sunday morning

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Staines is on the western fringe of London, inside the M25 but, thanks to Tory gerrymandering kept out of Greater London when the rest of Middlesex became greater London in the 1960s. It got lumped into Surrey, which has never quite accepted it, and where for various reasons it doesn't fit.

The recent decision by the local council to change its name from Staines to Staines-upon-Thames is perhaps another step in its attempted Surreyfication, though one that has no real local support. It will keep on being plain old Staines to those of us who live there - and I expect to the rest of the world. And it is old, pre-dating the Romans, who called it Ad Pontes, 'at the bridges', though rather plain with little to show for its age. A few of its truly historical sites have been excavated, but most simply built over, some several times.

The land around Staines is mainly water. Reservoirs, worked out gravel pits, rivers. To the north, between two reservoirs we still have an ancient moor, with three streams of the Colne running through it, the largest the River Colne itself, truly the river that Staines is upon. Another stream, the River Ash, branches off from the Colne at the southeast corner of the moor.

We'd had a small fall of snow late on Saturday, and I'd walked home through the end of it. I'd been planning to go for a walk with some others in London on the Sunday, but as rather often our train service was in a mess with engineering works and I suspected the snow would make the bus journeys miss their planned connections, making travel not worth the hassle. So instead I decided to walk around Staines. It wasn't a very planned walk and I didn't mean it to be a tour of Staines's rivers, but you can't help coming across them and having to go over the bridges, as the Romans found.

My route did take me past a little of Staines history that remains. The old town hall, abandoned by the council, given away to become a pub. The London Stone (or at least an excellent replica) by the County Ditch, the conservation area - not too well preserved, and of course the moor itself, where I took most of the pictures here.
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London Guantánamo Campaign Candlelit Vigil

US Embassy, Grosvenor Square, London. Friday 3 Feb 2012

Protesters light candles outside the US Embassy

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The London Guantánamo Campaign marked 5 years of regular protest at the US Embassy and over 10 years of illegal detention with a candlelit vigil, calling for the shutting down of the camp and the return of UK residents Shaker Aamer and Ahmed Belbacha.

Aisha Maniar from the London Guantánamo campaign stated

"We started this action five years ago to serve the United States government with a regular reminder on the doorstep of its embassy here in London that the whole world will not turn a blind eye to the regime of torture, arbitrary detention and lawlessness it has set up at Guantánamo Bay and elsewhere."

Around 20 campaigners came to the embassy and lit candles on a bitter night in front of the US Embassy in Grosvenor Square. It seemed very dark with just a few high-powered spotlights from the embassy grounds lighting patches of the area, and much of the central part of the embassy had the lights off, almost as if it was in hiding, under the unevenly lit US eagle and Stars and Stripes fluttering in an icy wind.

After the candles were lit around half of the protesters, several wearing Guantánamo-style orange jumpsuits and a couple in chains posed for pictures behind the main half-circle of candles. Fortunately there was little wind at ground level and these stayed alight.

Actor and poet Sergio Amigo then read a moving poem written in Guantánamo by Shaker Aamer, after which Daniel Viesnik from the campaign then spoke about the five years of the campaign and the ten years of Guantánamo, and in particular about the two British residents still held there. Both have been cleared for release, but the US has failed to release them, despite in Shaker Aamer's case requests by the UK government for his return.

Shaker Aamer, whose wife and children live in Battersea, was taken to Guantánamo almost ten years ago, on the day that his youngest son was born. Like many others he was working in Afghanistan at a time when bounties were being offered to anyone handing over alleged terrorists to the authorities and few if any questions were asked, with the result that many innocent foreigners were exchanged for cash.

Ahmed Belbacha, an Algerian sought asylum in the UK and lived in Bournemouth from 1999 to 2001m when his asylum application was refused. He put in an appeal and in the meantime decided to go and study the Koran in Pakistan. Shortly before 9/11 he visited Afghanistan, and when the US invaded tried to return to Pakistan but was arrested and handed over to the CIA. After a period of interrogations and beatings he was transferred to Guantánamo in March 2002. Cleared for release by the US military in 2007, a US court injunction has so far stopped him being forcibly returned to Algeria, where he would face imprisonment and possibly torture and death. Although he has offers of refuge from private citizens in both the UK and US, no government has so far offered to accept him, and the UK government has failed to release information they have which is vital to his case.

Several performances were planned for the vigil, including readings of more poems by Guantánamo prisoners, but at this point I had to leave.
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Disabled Protest Supports the Atos Two

Triton Square, London. Friday Feb 3 2012

Protesters outside the Atos offices

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Disabled people and their supporters braved freezing weather to stage an hour-long protest outside the UK offices of Atos, protesting against the unfair testing of fitness to work and benefit cuts and supporting the 'Atos 2'.

The protest at Triton Square in London was in solidarity with the 'Atos 2', a wheelchair user and a pensioner, Notts Uncut activists who were charged with ‘aggravated trespass’ safter peacefully entering an Atos assessment centre in Nottingham on a National Day of Action Against Atos and the Benefit Cuts last December. Charges against the two have now been dropped but the arrest and illegal confiscation of video material by the Nottingham police marked a new and disturbing attitude by them towards peaceful protest. The London protest took place at the same time as a protest in Nottingham.

Around twenty protesters and one crow - given to the group and adopted as a mascot - came to the protest outside Atos's corporate HQ, although the around zero temperature meant that some of the disabled supporters were unable to attend, and others were not present for the full protest. Among the disabled protesters were three wheelchair users, two of whom spoke while I was there. Another of the disabled protesters talked about his own experiences in attending an Atos 'Work Capability Assessment', warning that even simple statements like stating that you watched television or read a book could be abused by those adminstering the tests as evidence of fitness for work.

The tests were found to be inadequate and poorly administered by the government's own investigation and have led to many with terminal cancer, MS, severe mental health problems and other chronic conditions being found fit to work, stripped of their benefits and left destitute. Several have been driven to suicide by the decisions. As the large banner and some of the placards state, 'Atos Kills'. The appeals process against the decisions is slow, and although a very high percentage of appeals are successful, often they are followed within a few weeks by another faulty test which again finds the disabled person fit for work.

The tests completely ignore the evidence of GPs and consultants in favour of a brief computer-based interview, and these same tests which have been discredited are shortly to be applied to all those who claim Disablity Living Allowance.

Government cuts under the Welfare Reform Bill will also lead to hundreds of thousands of people - the disabled, families, pensioners, unemployed and low paid workers - being unable to afford their homes. The government expect them to move to cheaper accomodation, which in cities such as London does not exist.

The protesters feel that the government, many of whom are Eton-educated millionaires - is completely out of touch with the realities of life for ordinary people. They chanted:

'Stop the Eton looters
Save the Welfare State
Stop the profiteers
Save the Welfare State'

The French company Atos they see as one of the profiteers, making large profits from the government for depriving the poor and disabled of the benefits they need to live.

One of the leaflets they handed out stated:

"When not boosting their public image by acting as the official IT partner for the Paralympic Games, French firm Atos are paid hundreds of millions of pounds of our money to harass and bully sick and disabled people, sometimes to death."

Among those who came to support the protest were two members of the PCS from the nearby Euston Tower, who reported the unease felt by many government workers in the civil service at the continued use of the Atos tests. They hope to persuade their union to take action.
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London Walking

L B Camden, London. Friday Feb 3 2012

Sunlight in Triton Square
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I was a little early for the protest I had come to photograph so I took a little walk around the area just north of the Euston Rd. Later I walked around Kings Cross looking for a protest outside a place that wasn't there, and then went to get a bus and photographed the St Pancras hotel from near the bus stop. Eventually my bus came!
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All pictures on this section of the site are Copyright © Peter Marshall 2012; 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

February 2012

No Cuts - Solidarity With The Greek Resistance
Pancakes in the City - Leadenhall Market
Pancakes in the City - Guildhall
More Staines Moors
Reclaim Love - Occupy Your Heart!
Shaker Aamer - 10 years in Guantanamo
Waitrose Told Break Up With Shell
Disabled Protest Loss of ILF
Defend Freedom of Expression
Stop ACTA - London Protest
Victory to the Intifada Picket
Amnesty Protest For Human Rights
IWW Cleaners Demand Reinstate Alberto
Occupy London Still At St Pauls
Release The Bologna 12
Parliament Square & No War in Iran
Stop NHS Privatisation - Kill Lansley's Bill
Ukrainians Told 'Release Hunger Strikers'
Staines Walk In The Snow
London Guantánamo Campaign Candlelit Vigil
Disabled Protest Supports the Atos Two
London Walking


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