Stoke Poges Walk

Stoke Poges, Bucks. Mon 29 Apr 2013
No curfew, no lowing herd, no ploughman, but a monument to Thomas Gray
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We were lucky to pick one of the first reasonable days for a while for a walk around Stoke Poges. Much of it has changed dramatically since Gray sat in the churchyard in 1750 in the week after he moved to Stoke Poges and worked on his "Stanza's Wrote in a Country Church-Yard", better known as Gray's Elegy. Our walk of a few miles in the country around took us past two helicopter pads and across a golf course as well as past some very large and expensive houses.

The church itself is impressively unspoilt, although it lost its spire in 1924 when it was found to be unsafe, and the ivy which Gray mentioned was remove around a century ago as it was threatening the structure. It has a fine collection of stained glass, with some good fairly modern examples. The churchyard is perhaps something of a disappointment, but next door are the Grade II listed Stoke Poges Memorial Gardens, designed in the 1930s by Edward White, given for public benefit and intended to preserve the quiet rural setting of the church. From them there is a good view over a lake and an ornamental bridge of the Georgian mansion ofStoke Park, built around 40 years after Gray's writing. It's architect was James Wyatt, perhaps the most famous architect of the time (at least after Robert Adam) and its parkland, which had been styled by Lancelot 'Capability' Brown around the old Manor House (a part of which still remains) around the time Gray moved to the area, was reworked for the new house by Humphry Repton. The fortune needed for its production came from the sale of an extensive plot came from the newly formed US government, who paid John Penn around £130,000 for their 26 million acre plot in America, which became Pennsylvania.

The Stoke Park estate became Britain's first country club in 1908, when a 27 hole golf course was laid out in its grounds, and remains one of the world's top golf courses. A five star hotel, It also has three of the worlds more expensive restuarants and holds an annual tennis tournament as a run-up to Wimbledon. We found rather cheaper eating in a local pub - good pub food at a decent price, and the only place in the area where we saw a ploughman or rather a ploughman's breakfast; tempting though it was, I had the chicken and chips.
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Ten Years of Genocide in Darfur

Sudanese Embassy - Old Palace Yard, London. Sun 28 Apr 2013

The protest began at the Sudanese Embassy and ended here opposite Parliament

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Ten years after the genocide started, large crowd of mainly Sudanese protested at the Sudan embassy before presenting a petition asking the UK government to take action to stop the violence in Darfur and continuing to a rally outside Parliament.

The Sudanese government under President Omar al-Bashir began a campaign of genocide against civilians in Darfur ten years ago, and has killed over 300,000 and deplaced 2 million Darfuris. al-Bashir has been indicted with genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity, but although he travels widely has yet to be arrested to answer the charges in the Internatonal Court.

The protest began at the Sudanese Embassy, and then they marched to Downing St to deliver their petition. I caught up with them again for the closing quarter hour or so which was spent in protesting in Old Palace Yard opposite parliament.
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London Invaded by Sci-Fi Fantasy

Theatre Square, Stratford, London. Sun 28 Apr 2013

And no, I hadn't a clue who most of them were meant to be
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Characters from "every imaginable corner of the sci-fi and fantasy spectrum" paraded in Theatre Square, Stratford in the Sci-Fi-London Costume parade, marking the start of the Sci-Fi-London film festival.

As someone who has never wanted to watch Star Wars, The Matrix and the rest I really didn't have a clue who any of them were supposed to be, but as publicity stunts go, this seemed to be more fun than most, with - apart from a few promotions - most people seeming to be fans who like to dress up.
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Iranian Greens May Day Protest

Tower Hill, London. Sun 28 Apr 2013

Iranian Green Wave Voice call for the release of political prisoners in Iran

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Around 50 protesters from Iranian Green Wave Voice came to Tower Hill to stand with banners and posters showing pictures of political prisioners in Iran and demanding their release.

Many of those taking part in the protest had placards handing around their neck with photographs and short descriptions of some of those held in Iranian prisons, including teachers, journalists, lawyers and human rights activists. The protest for human rights in Iran took place today in anticipation of May Day - International Workers Day. Green Wave Voice is a part of the Iranian opposition freedom movement against the religious dictatorship in Iran which arose following the 2009 Iranian presidential election, where opposition voters accused the Iranian government, led by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, of rigging the vote, announcing they had won with a two thirds majority, while Mir Hossein Mousavi, the leading opposition candidate claimed that he had been the winner.

As I was finishing photographing the protest, which had been taking place for around half an hour, a police officer came to ask if the protesters had applied for permission to protest, which they had not. She told them they could not protest without having notified the police in advance. I was standing next to her listening to the conversation and to my surprise she asked me if I had any questions. I asked her under which law she felt they needed permission and she replied 'Section 11 of the Public Order Act'. I told her that I understood that this only applied to processions and not to static protests such as this, and she assured me that this was not the case, and pulling out a small printed legal guide from her pocket she read out the following:

"Written notice shall be given in accordance with this section of any proposal to hold a public procession intended—
(a)to demonstrate support for or opposition to the views or actions of any person or body of persons,
(b)to publicise a cause or campaign, or
(c)to mark or commemorate an event,
unless it is not reasonably practicable to give any advance notice of the procession."

I pointed out to her that this clearly states it is about processions, and not about assemblies or static protests such as this and slowly it began to dawn on her. After a few seconds she felt she had to call a superior officer to check on how she should apply the law. I'd taken the pictures I wanted and left before she got an answer.
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Workers Memorial Day

Tower Hill, London. Sun 28 Apr 2013

There was a black balloon for every worker killed at work (according to official figures) in 2012
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Trade unionists met at the statue of a building worker at Tower Hill to remember those who have died at work - including more than 300 in the Bangladesh factory collapse - and to "fight like hell for the living", opposing unsafe working conditions.

There were speeches from Len McCluskey, recently re-elected General Secretary of Unite, Tony O'Brien, of the Construction Safety Campaign (CSC), Jerry Swain from UCATT, Margaret Sharkey of the London Hazards Centre and Austin Harney of the PCS before a reading of the names of those who, according the the Health & Safety Executive who have died at work in the previous year. After a minute of silence for them, wreaths were laid at the statue of the unknown building worker, and there was then a release of black balloons, one for each of the deaths.

In fact many more people die of work each year. According to Hilda Palmer of Families Against Corporate Killers (FACK) a group formed by parents whose children have been killed by the gross negligence of business employers, preventable work-related incidents kill around 1,400 workers every year with around 50,000 dying from preventable work-related ilnesses. The numbers of deaths are considerably greater than those of deaths of our soldiers in Iraq or Afghanistan, but whereas those deaths are headline news, the media seldom if ever report these preventable deaths at work, and the government is busily relaxing the regulations that protect workers for further risk, under the guise of getting rid of red tape.

Although the Health & Safety Executive was felt by many to be toothlessm, and to have failed in its duty to prosecute careless and deliberately negligent employers who have put workers at risk to increase their profits, even the limited protection for workers that their inspections provided has been a victim of government cuts. Many industries with a poor record of workplace safety have now been officially classified as low risk and will only be inspected after serious accidents have taken place. Together they include places where over half of record fatalities occur.

Employers continue to be allowed to employ militant anti-safety practices, including the black-listing of workers who report faults and stand up for safety in the workplace. Although we are unlikely to see catastrophes such as the factory collapse in Bangladesh that has killed at least 300 workers, the number who have died in this rightly headlined incident is roughly that who die in 3 months of 'normal' working in the UK.
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Hizb ut-Tahrir protest Bangladeshi Regime

Altab Ali Park and Brick Lane, London. Sat 27 Apr 2013

Man with placards against Prime Minister Sheik Hasina
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A rally and march by Islamic political party Hizb ut-Tahrir in Tower Hamlets called for the replacement of the Awami League government of Bangladesh by an Islamic caliphate and deplored the anti-Islamic activities of Prime Minister Sheik Hasina.

The rally began with two recitations by Muslim boys, and there were then a number of political speeches, some in English. They condemned the activities of the Awami League government under Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in Bangladesh, and in particular her anti-Muslim measures, including the return of Rohinga Muslim refugees to Burma where they are discriminated against and persecuted.

They want to set up an Islamic caliphate or Khilifah to rule they country, which they say will bring justice and end corruption. Concern was expressed for those killed, injured and some still trapped in the collapsed factory builing at Rana Plaza, and some anger at the deliberate failure to provide safe working conditions there.

The rally was attended by a little over a hundred Muslim men, many of whom held placards or waved black Islamic flags. A slightly smaller group of women, some also holding placards, watched from around 50 yards away. Some held placards but there were no women speakers and they had no active role in the rally, although a powerful and somewhat overstressed sound system meant they could hear what the male speakers were saying. Many of the younger women particularly did appear to have an active interest in what was going on.

At the end of the rally, the men marched out of the park and up Brick Lane, and the women joined on the end of the march and followed them. I left them after they passed the mosque.

Bangladesh is one of the countries where Hizb ut-Tahrir is banned, alleged to have been destabilising the country, and after the ban in 2011 to have been involved in a foiled coup attempt. David Cameron in 2007 and 2009 urged the then Labour Government to ban the group, but was told that there had been two reviews of the group's activities that had concluded it was a non-violent group and there was insufficient evidence to justify a ban.
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Lonely Vigil at US Embassy

Grosvenor Square, London. Sat 27 Apr 2013

A woman and her daughter at the US Embassy
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Narmeen Saleh Al Rubaye, wife of Shawki Ahmed Omar, and their 7 year old daughter stood alone outside the US Embassy in Grosvenor Square. Three posters showed his injuries from US torture and asked what you think the Iraqis are doing to him now.

Omar has dual Jordanian/US nationality, born in Kuwait in 1962 he went to the US as a student in 1979 and four years later married a US citizen, becoming a US citizen himself in 1986. He went to work in Iraq after the US invasion and was shortly afterwards arrested together with his wife who was pregnant by US troops in October 2004, suspected of supporting the continuing armed resistance to the US invasion. The US allege he was captured with five insurgents and that weapons and materials for making IEDs (improvised explosive devices) were found in his home.

Both Omar and his wife were tortured while in US custody in Iraq - Omar was subjected to water-boarding and electric shock treatment as well as being beaten. Although his wife was released, he is still held in custody, and was recently transferred to be held by the Iraqis. He was subjected to a further round of torture by them in November and December 2012.

Omar is held without proper trial. He had a hearing after his arrest by a military panel without any proper legal representation and they found him to be an enemy combatant while at the same time declaring he was not entitled to treatment as a prisoner of war.

His wife and son filed a habeas corpus petition in the USA in 2005, and following from this gained a temporary order which prevented the US from handing him to the Iraqi authorities for trial as they had intended. But with the US withdrawal from Iraq he had been handed over to them in 2011 and is now held in Al Karkh prison. But the government's legal position was to argue that this order prevented them working for his release - though as they were themselves holding him it is hard to follow the convolutions of the US legal mind involved. It seems to be simply a legal dodge to avoid their moral (and almost certainly legal) responsibilities.

Omar has been on hunger strike in Al Karkh, protesting the ill treatment and torture of himself and fellow detainees since February 4th. In a statement issued on 27 April his wife states:

"We his family are extremely concerned about his well being. We have not been in contact with him for four weeks and have no idea of his whereabouts or his health and safety. As of the last time we spoke to him his health was on the decline and he was feeling extremely fatigued. He has lost over 40 pounds since the start of his hunger strike."

She is appealing to the US government to meet its responsibility for the well-being of one of its citizens held in a foreign prison,

"especially as they are the ones that turned him over to this torture and ill treatment. Therefore we are asking that the American government intervene on Shawki Ahmed Omar's behalf to secure his release from Iraqi custody and allow him to return to his family."

The US embassy were ignoring the lonely figures standing vigil outside their entrance. They were attracting no support either from the public while I was there, although there was a police car and two police vans parked on the road. Like the continuing failure to release the illegally held detainees at Guantanamo it seems another instance of a nation behaving immorally and failing to uphold the principles of freedom and justice it claims to stand for.
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Save Ealing Hospital & the NHS

Southall Park, London. Sat 27 Apr 2013

Women listen to speeches in Southall Park
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Around a thousand met in Southall to march and meet other protesters at a rally in Ealing in the continuing battle by communities across west London to save A&E departments at Charing Cross, Hammersmith, Central Middlesex and Ealing Hospitals.

Before the marchers set off from Southall Park, there were a number of speeches, including one from Councillor Julian Bell, the Leader of Ealing Council, other local councillors who have led the opposition to the cuts and the two local MPs, John McDonnell from Hillingdon and Virendra Sharma, MP for Ealing Southall, as well as representatives from some of the many faith groups who were also represented at the protest. The shortest speech came from the youngest speaker, a pupil from Blair Peach Primary school, named after the teacher who was killed by riot police at an anti-racist demonstration in Southall in 1979, who was applauded loudly when she said they shouldn't close Ealing Hospital because she was born there. The proposed cuts would mean many mothers having long and sometimes difficult journeys to give birth.

The whole community seems united in its opposition to the cuts, which would effect around two million people in West London, closing four out of the current nine A&E units and leave three London Boroughs without a major hospital. Public transport to the remaining units is poor from many areas, and the roads are often congested. The cuts will also lose hundreds of hospital beds and many other hospital services.

The closures seem at least in part motivated by the desire to see increased privatisation on the NHS in the area, and also to sell off much hospital owned land for housing and other development. Other councils in the area also oppose the cuts to the hospitals.

I left the march just after it made its way out of the park, led by a GMB band, and later passed another large group of protesters waiting to join it closer to the final rally at Ealing Common.
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March of the Beekeepers

Parliament Square, London. Fri 26 Apr 2013
Dame Vivienne Westwood and Katharine Hamnett carry the Save the Bees petition to Downing St
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Several hundred beekeepers and environmentalists met at Parliament, many in bee veils and with flowers and fruit that rely on bee pollination to urge DEFRA's Owen Paterson to back a ban on bee-killing neonicotinoid pesticides in Monday's EU vote.

The vote on Monday comes after a previous vote on a ban in March, following a report by the European Food Safety Agency (EFSA) which concluded that some of these pesticides were a risk to bee health, when the UK abstained.

The death of bee colonies is a serious problem, and most scientists seem clear that although these pesticides are not the sole cause, they weaken the resistance of the bees (and other pollinating insects) to other factors including climate change and the Varroa mite and thus increase bee deaths. The decline in bee numbers has been particularly drastic in England, with the number of colonies down to under half of those present in the 1980s

The loss of bee colonies has a drastic effect on food production, and many of those attending the rally in Parliament Square - billed as 'The March of the Beekeepers' - had brought samples of flowers and food that rely on bee pollination. Many also wore bee-keeping hats with veils and carried items of bee-keeping equipment such as smokers, while there were others dressed as bees, and a large bear asking where his honey was.

The March of the Beekeepers was supported by a wide range of organisations including Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, Pesticide Action Network (PAN), RSPB, Soil Association, The Natural Beekeeping Trust, the Wildlife Trusts and 38 Degrees, whose on-line petition:

"Dear Owen Paterson, Environment Secretary,
It's time to take action to protect our dying bees!
Immediately halt the use of Nerve-agent pesticides (neonicotinoids) which are being blamed around the world for the sharp decline in bee numbers.
Take measures to reduce the use of all pesticides on bee pollinated crops."

has attracted 300,000 signatures. A small group from the protest, led by fashion designers Dame Vivienne Westwood and Katharine Hamnett, carried the petition to Downing St while the protest continued in Parliament Square.

The UK government says that the laboratory studies which have shown the pesticides produced by Syngenta and Bayer CropScience – clothianidin, imidacloprid and thiamethoxam - to be killing bees do not reflect what happens during their normal use in the field, and wants there to be further studies. But scientists, environmentalists and bee-keepers say that the science clearly shows there is a problem, and that we should stop using them - as the EU proposes - while further tests are carried out.

Despite continued opposition from the UK, the vote for the ban was passed on the following Monday.
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Get Britain Cycling Report Launch

Parliament Square, Westminster. Wed 24 Apr 2013
Chris Boadman with 3 MPs in front of Big Ben for the launch
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Chris Boardman who won a gold medal for cycling in the Barcelona Olympics posed with MPs from the All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group to launch their report 'Get Britain Cycling.'

The report says that more should be spent on supporting cycling, starting at at least £10 per person per year and that cycling should be considered at an earlier stage in all planning decisions. It calls for more segregated cycling lanes on the Dutch model and for urban speed limits generally to be reduced to 20mph. Children should learn to ride a bike at school and the government should produce a detailed cross-departmental Cycling Action Plan, with annual progress reports.
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UK herbalists Want Regulations

Old Palace Yard, Westminster. Wed 24 April

Herbalists will be stopped from prescribing unless they are regulated
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In 2011 the UK government announced it would bring in statutory regulations to cover UK herbalists by 2012. Herbalists protested at parliament today as this had not happened and they are unable to prescribe many common herbal remedies.

Chinese and traditional herbal practitioners protest at Parliament against the failure of the Dept of Health to bring in the promised statutory regulations which would allow them to continue to prescribe common herbal remedies.

In 2008 the World Health Organisation (WHO) agreed to cooperate with its member states to promote the use of traditional medicines and for them to develop national policies to regulate and ensure the safety and effectiveness of natural health products and practices. The 2004 EU directive on relating to herbal medicines had provided for traditional medicines in use before that date could continue in use until 2011, but after that date require authorisation.

Health Minister Andrew Lansley in Feb 2011 stated that when the EU directive took full effect in April 2011

"it will no longer be legal for herbal practitioners in the UK to source unlicensed manufactured herbal medicines for their patients"

and that

"This Government wishes to ensure that the public can continue to have access to these products.
In order to achieve this, while at the same time complying with EU law, some form of statutory regulation will be necessary and I have therefore decided to ask the Health Professions Council to establish a statutory register for practitioners supplying unlicensed herbal medicines.

He said that they aimed to have this in place by 2012.

Today's protest by around 50 people from the European Herbal & Traditional Medicine Practitioners Association (EHTPA) which represents professional associations of herbal/traditional medicine practitioners offering variously western herbal medicine, Chinese herbal medicine, Ayurveda and traditional Tibetan medicine across the EU, pointed out that nothing has yet happened and there is "no sign of progress." Practitioners are now unable to prescribe many commonly used and effective common herbal remedies. As well as reminding those in Parliament across the road of the need for statutory regulation which would enable "a derogation in the European legislation to set up a UK scheme to permit and regulate the supply, via practitioners, of unlicensed manufactured herbal medicines to meet individual patient needs" the protest also called on the public to write to their MPs asking the government to honour their promise.
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Gurkhas Call for equal treatment

Old Palace Yard, Westminster. Wed 24 April

A Ghurka listens to speeches at the protest
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British Army Gurkhas who retired before 1997 were granted the right to settle in the UK in 2009, but their pension remains only a fifth of that of other British soldiers. They came to Parliament to demand proper pensions and full citizenship rights.

Several hundred Gurkha pensioners and supporters came to a rally opposite Parliament on the 198th anniversary of the first recruitment of Gurkhas into the British Army to deliver a petition to David Cameron asking for equal treatment to other British Army ex-soldiers. They receive pensions, gratuities and other compensation at around a fifth or less of the rate that is given to soldiers they served alongside.

Following a high profile campaign that received widespread public support (and defeats in court and in parliament) the UK government granted the right of all former British Army Gurkhas with at least 4 years service to settle in the UK, in particular extending the right to those who had left the Army before 1997. But although they can come here, the pensions and other payments they receive are much lower than those of British soldiers and are based on outdated assumptions about the cost of living in Nepal.

The Gurkhas want to be given full citizenship of the country for which they risked their lives in Army service, and to be paid pensions at the same rate as British veterans. The Gurkha United Struggle Committee has said that the government has six months to reply to their demands and that then they will begin a 13-day relay hunger-strike. If that does not succeed they will then take part in a ‘fast-unto-death’.
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Drax Biomass Threat to our Planet

Princes St, City of London. Wed 24 Apr 2013

Green Party leader Natalie Bennett speaking at the protest
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A DRAXtic Action at the Drax AGM warned that converting half the massive power station from coal to biomass is disastrous for the environment and urged the government to stop subsidising this 'greenwash' as renewable energy though our fuel bills.

The protest took place outside Grocer's Hall in the centre of the City of London, next to the Bank of England, where the Drax AGM was taking place. Drax, a huge coal-burning power station near Selby in Yorkshire, has plans to convert half its capacity to burning biomass. It already imports wood pellets from Canada, the USA, Portugal and South Africa for relatively small-scale power generation, but the development would make Drax by far the biggest biomass-burning power station in the world, using 1.5 times the total UK wood production per year.

The wood currently being used comes mainly from the clear-cutting of highly biodiverse forests in North America, and the eventual regrowth that will remove the large amounts of carbon emitted will take of the order of a hundred years - during which time the carbon will be contributing to disastrous climate change. Burning wood produces roughly 50% more carbon than coal to produce the same amount of energy.

The impact of biomass cultivation is particularly destructive in countries of the global South, where land is being grabbed from its traditional communities, usually with complete disregard for their human and civil rights, cleared of its biodiverse forests and diverted from food production - often in places where food is desperately needed.

Drax is a dirty power station, and would have to close because of its sulphur dioxide emissions when EU directives become binding in 2016. Although wood produces much more carbon dioxide, it is relatively low in sulphur, and changing to 50% wood burn will enable it to keep running, despite increasing hugely its overall contribution to climate change. Similar solutions are also being proposed for others among the UK's most polluting power stations.

These changes are encouraged by government policy that subsidises these large and highly climate-destructive biomass projects using funds for renewable energy, rather than limiting these to schemes for energy production and conservation that actually will help to combat climate change.

Around 50 protesters spread with their banners in front of the banks lining Princes St which Grocer's Hall lies in a gated courtyard behind, making no attempt to enter the gates or to prevent people from entering or leaving them. They handed out leaflets to people walking along the street - mainly city workers going to or from lunch - explaining why they were protesting and the need for proper renewable energy rather than the 'greenwash' of schemes such as this that actually make the problem worse.

Green Party leader Natalie Bennett spoke briefly, and posed with members of the Green Party who were taking part in the protest, which was organised by Biofuel Watch supported by a wide range of groups including Campaign Against Climate Change, Carbon Trade Watch, Christian Ecology Link, Climate Justice Collective, Coal Action Network, Coal Action Scotland, Colombia Solidarity Campaign, Corporate Watch, Frack Free Somerset, Fuel Poverty Action, Gaia Foundation, London Mining Network, London Rising Tide, Occupy London Energy Equity and Environment Group
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Bring Shaker Aamer Home From Guantanamo

Parliament Square, Westminster. Wed 24 Apr 2013

'Shaker Aamer 12 Years No Crime! Where's the Justice?
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117,387 signatures on a petition to bring Shaker Aamer home from Guantanamo led to a debate by MPs in Westminster Hall today, which was followed by a protest against his detention without rights for 11 years, calling for him to be brought home now.

The protesters, many of whom had been in to Parliament to listen to the debate which had followed the petition with over a hundred thousand signatures, were setting up the protest on the pavement of Parliament Square facing the House of Commons when I arrived. They had been pleased with the debate, with a number of speakers calling for the release of Shaker Aamer. Seventeen MPs spoke, mainly from the Labour Party, but including Conservative MP Jane Ellison, the MP for Battersea, where Aamer's family lives and a strong supporter of the campaign for his release who had secured the debate. She hopes later in the year to request a debate in the House of Commons where a motion could be passed.

I returned to the protest later, when more people had arrived, but I missed the visit of several MPs to show their support, but was able to hear and photograph Ellison talking with the protesters.

Recently the true reason for the continued detention of Aamer in Guantanamo despite his clearance for release, long published on the web, has emerged in the mass media. Both the US and UK authorities would be highly embarrassed by the evidence he would give about his own torture and that of others, and in particular of the complicity of British agents in torture at Bagram and in Guantanamo. The US would happy to be released to a country where he would be locked up and never seen again, but not to the UK, where he would be free to give the evidence (some of which he has already given to Scotland Yard detectives who recently visited Guantanamo) in court.

Aamer has now been detained for more than 11 years, despite there being no evidence against him. He has UK permanent resident status and is married to a British citizen and has four British children. He has been in poor health because of his mistreatment in Guantamo for some years, and along with 85 other detainees in Guantanamo has been on hunger strike. He is still being routinely beaten up - whenever he needs a bottle of water, his medicine or a shower, the guards come in and beat him up. In an article published on Sunday in The Independent he vividly describes his life there, and why he is on hunger strike, along with over a hundred of the other prisoners there. They are demanding that their basic human rights be respected.

It's time that the UK government really told the US that he must be released - and that the governments simply have to face the consequences that may ensue. The facts about torture are now largely public and totally indefensible and it is time for justice to be done.
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Protest the Privatisation of NHS

Old Palace Yard, Westminster. Wed 24 April

'Health minister Jeremy Hunt' strangles a patient in front of the Unite 'Wheel of Fortune
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Unite's 'Wheel of Fortune' game show hosted by 'David Cameron' and 'Jeremy Hunt', was a part of protests against the controversial section 75 NHS regulations which open it to full competitive tendering being debated today in the House of Lords.

Unite's 'Wheel of Fortune' was not just a game, but was marked out with the costs we can expect to have to pay for various medical procedures if the backdoor privatisation accelerated by the section 75 NHS regulations goes ahead. They fear "that the coalition’s NHS policies, including a multi billion pound funding squeeze coupled with a massive reorganisation, will destroy the 65 year old health service, paving the way for a new marketised system where paying up to £10,000 for maternity costs or £13,450 for a new hip is the norm."

Rachel Maskell, head of health at Unite in a length statement said that already more than £20 billion of health costs go to private companies, who take their decisions on the basis of profit rather than the interests of patients.

"Already, one of the most powerful figures in the NHS, Malcolm Grant, has warned that healthcare free at the point of use in England, is at risk, which is why we must fight to stop the private sector being given a free pass to our NHS."

Previous huge public outcry about the regulations meant they had to be re-written, but the revised version still put the interests of private companies before those of patients and mean that "Sixty-five years of healthcare based on need and not the ability to pay is at stake."

The protest by Unite and others fighting to save the NHS came before the House of Lords was to debate a fatal motion laid before parliament by former Labour health minister Lord Hunt, calling for the regulations to be annulled on the grounds that they do not implement the assurances given to Parliament "that NHS commissioners would be free to commission services in the way they consider in the best interests of NHS patients", a view which is widely held across the whole medical profession and others concerned with the future of the NHS.

A group of around 50 campaigners was continuing the protest two and a half hours later when I left.
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Stand Off at Venezuela Embassy

South Kensington, London. Sat 20 Apr 2013

Supporters of President Maduro have a heated discussion about how they should protect the Embassy
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Supporters of President Maduro and of losing candidate Henrique Capriles faced each other at the Venezuelan Embassy in London in a boisterous shouting match. The Union of South American Nations has endorsed Maduro's win - but the US which hated Chavez has doubts, and is perhaps hoping to back another coup.

When I arrived at the Venezuelan embassy there were around 25 people demonstrating in support of President Maduro along the wall of the embassy, where they had taped up various banners and posters in support of the South American left. They had come to defend the embassy, where supporters of the Venezuelan opposition Henrique Capriles had harassed Embassy workers earlier in the week as they left work. There was one woman protesting against them, and a handful of other opposition supporters standing around.

As more people arrived, the numbers changed dramatically and soon the supporters of Chavez were outnumbered several times, and both groups were shouting noisily at each other.

Many of the Capriles supporters had brought their Venezuelan ID cards and waved these, shouting that the supporters of Maduro were not Venezuelan. And certainly not all of them were, with both English radical leftists and Latin American refugees from several countries supporting Maduro and the Chavez revolution in Venezuela. "Go back to Havana" the Caprilists shouted, and the Maduro supporters countered with "Go back to Miama", the home of many of the anti-Castro Cubans supported by the US CIA.

"Bad loser, Bad loser, Bad loser - you lost, you lost, you lost" shouted the Maduro supporters, taking up the 'Occupy' slogan 'This is what democracy looks like'. The reply came that Maduro had won by fraud. His victory was certainly closer than expected and the Venezuela's National Electoral Council (CNE) has now announced that they will make a 100% audit of the votes in an attempt to get the opposition to admit they they did lose. They had already certified the result and audited over half the votes to verify this, and it seems unlikely that looking at the rest will change the result, which has already been widely accepted both inside the country and also in the rest of the world - apart from the USA.

The USA hated Chavez, and are widely believed to have been behind the 2002 military coup that ousted Chavez - and said to be backing the current opposition to Maduro's election. For them - as apparently for the supporters of Capriles - elections and democracy are fine so long as they come up with the result that they want.

Maduro's support comes largely from the workers in Venezuela, for whom the Chavez 'revolution' has seen real gains, including much improved healthcare. Many of those who were there to support him today had come to Britain as refugees - largely as a result of US-backed military coups in their countries. Their support for Chavez, and after him Maduro is hardly surprising.

Those Venezuelan citizens who are here to work are largely from the middle-class where support for the opposition is strong. So many of them have Venezuelan ID cards. As a group they were noticeably more middle-class and appeared largely to be from the section of the Venezuelan population with European ancestry, while the Maduro supporters were clearly from very mixed populations.

Maduro gained a larger share of the vote in the recent election than most politicians elected to lead countries in the West, where many US presidents and UK prime ministers have led our country on the basis of minority votes, notably George Bush Junior, who actually lost the election. There were no 'hanging chads' in Venezuela.
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Copts Say End Egyptian Persecution

Old Palace Yard, Westminster, London. Sat 20 Apr 2013

Man holds up crucifix towards stage and giant screen opposite Parliament
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UK Copts protested opposite Parliament against the new fascist regime in Egypt, where the Muslim Brotherhood led government is attacking freedom, muzzling the press, undermining the legal system and encourging attacks on religious minorities.

On April 8, Egyptian security forces and some civilians launched an attack on St Mark's Cathedral in Cairo, where a mass funeral had been held for 5 Copts who had been killed in violent clashes in the northern suburbs of Cairo. When the hundreds of worshippers tried to leave they were attacked with stones and Molotov cocktails thrown from nearby buildings by local residents and they retreated back into the cathedral. Clashes continued on the streets outside, and shots were fired into the building.

Police came and fired tear gas into the cathedral complex. One Copt was killed outside the Cathedral, and 84 people were injured, including 11 police. After the attack President Morsi spoke with Pope Tawadros II and issued a statement that he had given orders that the police guard the cathedral and that the state would protect the lives of both Christians and Muslims.

The attack is part of a continuing series of attacks of Copts in Egypt, which the police have done little to stop, and Copts feel the authorities are encouraging popular feeling against them, but both the scale of this attack and that it was on the cathedral are worrying developments.r

The Copts feel very much threatened by the increasing violence against them in Egypt which they link with the association of the ruling Muslim Brotherhood with criminal elements which it gives protection to. They see is as a part of a growing Islamicisation which is also undermining Egypt's judicial system, and as a deliberate attack on all opposition, including the liberal and left political opposition as well as all minority religious groups.

Around a hundred people attended the rally where there were speeches, performances and prayers. The speakers were at pains to make clear that they were not against Muslims, but only those who wished to persecute minorities and turn Egypt into an Islamic state, and the speaker who got the warmest welcome at the event was an Egyptian Muslim. They called on the British government to stop supporting the current fascist regime in Egypt, but rather to put pressure on the Egyptian government to uphold human and civil rights.
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Armenians Remember the Genocide

Oxford St to Whitehall, London, Sat 20 Apr 2013

Armenian scouts carried flags and wreaths at the head of the procession
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Hundreds of Armenians joined in the procession through London, led by Armenian scouts - male and female - carrying flags and 3 wreaths. Many had large placards about the Armenian genocide and demanding that Turkey recognise it - as, according to the placards, 22 countries already have - as a condition of entry into the EU. They also demand that the UK government should recognise it and that it should be taught on the national curriculum.

Some carried a placard with a picture of Hrant Dink (1954-2007), described as 'The 1,500,001st Victim of The Armenian Genocide'. The former editor of the Istanbul Turkish-Armenian newspaper Agos, he was prosecuted under Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code which makes it a crime to publicly denigrate the Turkish government, republic or nation. After having received many death threats he was assassinated by a 17 year old Turkish Nationalist in January 2007.

The procession started on Oxford St and then turned down Regent St, walking past Piccadilly Circus into Haymarket and on to Trafalgar Square before turning down Whitehall where it ended with a ceremony at the Cenotaph where the 3 wreaths remembering the Armenian Genocide, from the Armenian Embassy, from the Armenian Community & Church Council, and from the UK Diocese of the Armenian Orthodox Church, were laid by Bishop Vahan Hovhannesian, Primate of the Armenian Orthodox Church in the UK & Ireland and others. After several short speeches and prayers the Armenians moved onto the pavement. I left them there before they walked the short distance to St Margaret’s Church beside Westminster Abbey, where HG Bishop Vahan Hovhanessia was to lead a memorial service a Memorial service.

On 24 April 1915 the Turkish authorities arrested around a thousand leading members of the Armenian community in the capital city of Constantinople (now Istanbul) and murdered them. They went on to disarm and kill around 300,000 Armenian men who had been conscripted into the Turkish Army. The next stage in the attempt to eliminate the Armenian people included, in the words of the Campaign for Recognition of the Armenian Genocide, "mass killings, deportations and death marches of women, children and elderly men into the Syrian Desert. During those marches, many of the weak or exhausted were killed or died. Women were raped. The deportees were deprived of food and water. Starvation and dehydration became commonplace."

Roughly 70% of the Armenian population - about 1.5 million were killed, mostly in 1915, although the massacres and deportations continued in 1916 and on a smaller scale until 1923.

The Armenians were in the way of the Turkish policy of creating a single homogeneous Turkish nation, having a strong national identity with their Christian heritage at its centre. The Turks, angered by the Armenian desire for independence, decided that the only solution was to get rid of them from the Turkish empire. The Turkish government still refuse to accept that their country had a policy of genocide, explaining the deaths as the result of a civil war. But the Armenians had no weapons or organisation to carry out any war.

When the UN was set up after the Second World War, one of its early resolutions was one on 'The Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide' and it was proposed by Raphael Lemkin who had coined the term genocide, describing it as "The sort of thing Hitler did to the Jews and the Turks did to the Armenians."

Although the UN Commission on Human Rights has described it as genocide and many countries around the world have recognised it in their parliaments, the UK has still to make such a declaration, and the main aim of this annual march is to persuade our government to officially recognise the Armenian genocide.

Armenians state that the "request for recognition is a moral issue that would restore truth and justice and lead toward reconciliation."
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Supreme Court Nyamgiri Decision

Berkeley St, London. Thu 18 Apr 2013

Foil Vedanta celebrate the Indian Supreme Court sending the Nyamgiri decision to the local peoples councils
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Protesters came to the UK headquarters of Vedanta after the Indian Supreme Court ruled that the local peoples councils should consider the religious and cultural aspects of the Dongria Kondh's Niyamgiri Hills and come to a decision in 3 months.

Despite heavy rain, protesters at Vedanta's UK HQ were in good spirits after the Indian Supreme Court ruling - seen by some as a landmark decision - that it should be up to the local people's councils to decide whether the company should be allowed to destroy the Dongria Kondh's sacred Niyamgiri Hills.

The case came to the Supreme Court after the Odisha Mining Corporation and Vedanta appealed against a 2010 order by the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) which stopped the mining continuing.

Around a dozen protesters from Foil Vedanta turned up at very short notice for the protest outside Vendanta's headquarters in Mayfair.

Vedanta wants to destroy the Niyamgiri hills to supply bauxite for its aluminium smelters, and after they were stopped from mining appealed to the Indian Supreme Court. They ruled today that Vedanta had failed to consult the people in the area properly and that the local 'gram sabha' or village councils must come to a decision based on the religious and cultural aspects of the proposed mining in the next three months and that this should then be passed on to the MoEF as a basis for their final ruling.

The protests stood behind a banner reading 'MoEF: No U Turn on Niyamgiri' and held up placards about the various environmental and other crimes committed by Vedanta in India and elsewhere, as well as a large picture of Vedanta boss Anil Agarwal with the captions 'Wanted' and 'Found Guilty'. As well as calling for a stop to the threat of destruction of the sacred mountains, they also called for Vedanta to be de-listed from the London Stock Exchange for poor corporate governance and human rights crimes.

The protesters also called on the Indian authorities to ensure that neither Vedanta or the state police exercise undue or illegal influence on the village councils which have been tasked with making the decision.

Foil Vedanta's Samarendra Das stated:

"For ten years Vedanta has harassed local people and committed major abuses and illegalities in its attempt to push this flagship project through. For ten years farmers, Dalits and Adivasis living around Niyamgiri have fought to save their traditional communities and their sacred mountain, from a mine which would give just four and half years worth of bauxite for the 6 million ton per year refinery as planned by Vedanta Aluminium.

The Supreme Court is right that decision on the mine should be with those affected by it – the ancient inhabitants of the mountain. But the Dongria and others have stated their disagreement over and over again through Gram Sabha’s and mass rallies. We know that Vedanta officials have been very active in lobbying the judges leading up to this decision, and are concerned that the villagers will be under heavy harassment from Orissa state and Vedanta officials. We call for many independent observers to oversee this crucial process."

The British government have tried to influence the decision with, with David Cameron putting pressure on Indian PM Manmohan Singh during his visit in February to allow Vedanta to mine the sacred mountain.
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G4S - Palestinian Prisoners Day

Victoria St, London. Wed 17 Apr 2013

Protesters outside the office block containing the G4S offices
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Protesters stood with banners and placards handing out leaflets to workers and shoppers making their way home past the Victoria UK HQ of G4S about the thousands of Palestinians, many held without trial and tortured in Israeli jails serviced by G4S.

By the time I left the protest there was a small crowd of more than 50 protesters, mainly from the Palestine Solidarity Campaign which had organised the event on International Palestinian Political Prisoners Day, as well as some from the other organisations supporting it, including War On Want, Action for Palestinian Children, Amos Trust, Fire Brigades Union, Friends of Al-Aqsa UK, ICAHD UK, Jews for Justice for Palestinians, Lib-Dems Friends of Palestine, Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS), Stop G4S Campaign, UNISON and UNITE the Union (there was another protest at the same site by Innovative Minds later in the week.) More were still arriving as some protesters came to take part after leaving work.

A steady stream of people were walking past, mainly on their way to catch trains at nearby Victoria station, and many took leaflets and a few stopped to ask about the protest and the campaign. The protest was outside the offices of G4S, best known to the public for their failure to meet the contract they had agreed for the Olympic security.

G4S run or help to run a number of prisons and detention centres in Israel, where over 5000 Palestinians are detained. Many of them are detained without charge, and have not had a trial. Israel practices 'administrative detention' and some prisoners are held for many years without trial. Physical illtreament of prisoners and torture are commonplace, and Israel violates the 4th Geneva Convention on the treatment of prisoners on a routine daily basis.

Palestinian are held in jails in Israel, and family members face many problems in trying to visit them and often lawyers have only minimal contact. Some prisoners have been denied visits for years. Israeli jails were found by the Israeli High Court to have tortured prisoners in the 1990s, and some interrogation techniques formerly in routine use were banned. But research in Israel has shown that torture continues, according to the PSC:

The most common forms of abuse are still beating,
kicking, stepping on shackles, forcing the detainee into
painful positions, placing a urine-soaked bag over his
head, violent shaking, sleep deprivation, prolonged
shackling behind the back, cursing, threats (for example
to set dogs onto the arrested person or to electrocute
him or to harm his family), humiliations such as strip
searches and depriving the detainee of essential needs.

Female prisoners, although relatively few in number,
also report degrading treatment amounting to torture,
including enforced nakedness and threats of rape

The object of the torture is usually to get prisoners to implicate others and also to obtain forced confessions. These are then written out in Hebrew, which few Palestinians can read, and they are then forced to sign them.

Among those detained each year are around 700 children from the age of 12 up. Palestinian politicians are also often detained - including 39 members of the Palestinian parliament elected in 2006 - 15 of them are still in jail, of which 8 are in administrative detention, as a part of a deliberate policy of undermining democracy in Palestine.
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Don't Hang Prof Bhullar

Downing St, London. Tue 16 Apr 2013

Sikhs began the vigil opposite Downing St last Friday

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The vigil by Sikhs at Downing St against the hanging of Professor Bhullar, on death row in India for 18 years convicted without evidence for a Delhi bombing, started on Friday, hopes to continue despite being on the Thatcher funeral route.

Since Friday a small group of Sikh protests have been sitting and standing opposite Downing St with placards, banners and Sikh pennants calling for justice in India and an end to the death penalty. On April 12th this year his final appeal for the death penalty to be reduced to life imprisonment was rejected by the Indian courts. The protesters want Prime Minister to argue the human rights case with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and to put pressure on him both to stop capital punishment completely in India and to prevent the hanging of Bhullar. They fear that the Indian government will take advantage of the current traditional New Year (Vaisakhi or Baisakhi) festivities by Sikhs and others to hang him without the protests that would otherwise be expected.

Professor Bhullar, who taught electrical engineering, was a political activist, and his father, uncle and best friend were all abducted and tortured to death by police in the early 1990s. When he was falsely accused of bombing the All India Youth Congress in Delhi in 1993, he fled to Germany as he had no faith in Indian justice, and sought political asylum.

His asylum claim was turned down in 1995 and he was deported to India; too late the German courts ruled his deportation to be illegal as his life was in danger in India. Convicted on the basis of a forced confession after the witnesses to the bombing did not identify him, he was sentenced to death, and has been on death row for 18 years. During this time his physical and mental health have deteriorated and he is now in a very poor condition, with pleas being made for his release or the reduction of his sentence on health grounds.

Some of the protesters from the Kesri Lehar or 'I Pledge Orange' campaign have been at the vigil since Friday, with others coming for shorter periods. They say they have no intention of protesting as Mrs Thatcher's coffin is taken past or in any way showing disrespect, but hope to be able to continue their protest. The council who apparently control the site and to who the police have referred them have not returned their calls or and have avoided talking to them.

Baroness Thatcher's coffin was taken to the Houses of Parliament this afternoon and will rest in the chapel of St Mary Undercroft overnight. It will leave the Palace of Westminster tomorrow morning in a hearse at 10am and go up Whitehall and then on to St Clement Danes Church. The route will be lined by service personnel who could hide the Sikh vigil from the TV cameras which have been set up along the route.

The Sikhs were there, and I was told few people had come to this area to watch the funeral procession, just those working in the nearby offices who came out at the last moment.
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Outlaw Caste Discrimination

Parliament Square, London. Tue 16 Apr 2013

Women protesters call for a legal ban on caste discrimination
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CasteWatchUK and the Dalit Solidarity Network organised a protest at Parliament calling on MPs to uphold the stand against caste discrimination taken by the House of Lords who passed an amendment in March for it to be added to the 2010 Equality Act.

Around 500 people from various groups around the country protested noisily, shouting 'No' to the caste system this afternoon in Parliament Square. Coming from various groups around London and in the Midlands and including Ravadissia and Buddhist groups as well as others concerned with human rights, they were there to encourage Parliament to make a stand for human rights. A number of the banners had images of Dr B R Ambedkar (1891-1956), born into an 'untouchable' caste and a great campaigner against caste discrimination and the four 'varnas' of Hindu society - below which come the 'untouchables' or Dalits. Ambedkar converted to Buddhism, and was followed by many Dalits.

One of the first Dalits to gain a university degree (and he later added honours from Columbia University and the LSE. He practised law in India and engaged in the struggle for independence, at times in bitter opposition to Ghandi, and in 1947 was appointed the first law minister of independent India and chaired the committee which drafted the new country's constitution.

Adopted in 1949, this enshrined civil liberties and support for the 'scheduled castes' and 'scheduled tribes', and made discrimination on the basis of caste illegal in India. But many Indians living in the UK find that they are discriminated against because of their caste, and English equality laws do not presently prohibit this.

In March, the House of Lords was debating the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (ERR) Bill” and Peers of the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Dalits moved an amendment to insert a new clause in the Equality Act 2010 to include caste in the definition of race. It was passed with a large majority, and has now come back to the House of Commons.

The government - perhaps because of lobbying by various groups dominated by higher caste Indians who want no change to the status quo - have not been keen to accept this amendment, and instead propose merely paying consultants to produce educational material against caste discrimination, which fails to effectively tackle the problem. The protesters came to try to persuade them that a change in the law is necessary to make caste discrimination illegal - just as we have legislated against other aspects of racial discrimination (and discrimination on grounds of gender or sexual orientation) and to show that the people of this country are opposed to any form of discrimination against any of its citizens.
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Release Palestinian Prisoners

Kentish Town, London. Sat 13 April 2013
Campaigners call for release of prisoners, especially those from Camden's twin town Abu Dis
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The Camden Abu Dis Friendship association handed out leaflets in Kentish Town calling for the release from Israeli jails of seriously ill political prisoner Amer Bahar from their twin town of Abu Dis near Jerusalem and hunger striker Samer Issawi.

When I went past the group close to Kentish Town Station there were six protesters, four wearing blindfolds and holding large posters and two handing out leaflets and collecting signatures on a petition for their release.

Camden is twinned with Abu Dis, a Palestinian town on the edge of East Jerusalem, and the Camden Abu Dis Friendship Association (CADFA) is a registered charity which exists to promote human rights and respect for international humanitarian law in Abu Dis, working with schools and holding various events. Volunteers visit the town and take part in various community projects including English teaching, health and youth work, with a special programe for young people under 30. Palestinian volunteers also work in Abu Dis with CADFA educational projects at a community centre there. CADFA have also issued regular reports on the human rights situation there, though the latest online is dated February 2012.

Amer Bahar is a political prisoner from Abu Dis who was reported to be suffering from stomach pains and bleeding caused by serious stomach infections, and an appeal has been made for his release so he can receive proper treatment, not avaialable in jail.

Samer Issawi was released from an Israeli jail where he had been serving a 26 year sentence in 2011 as a part of the prisoner release in exchange for Israeli solider Gilad Shalit. He was rearrested in July 2012 accused of attempting to establish a Hammas terrorist cell in the occupied West Bank and has been on hunger strike since 1 Aug 2012, refusing vitamin supplements and taking only water and some sugar. He is in a very weak condition and doctors say he may die at any moment and could suffer permanent brain damage. The Israeli government has tried to negotiate a deal in which he would be released into exile, but he has refused this.

His hunger strike is against the Israeli use of administrative detention, which results in Palestinians being held without charges, sometimes for up to ten years. The Palestinian Prisoners Society say that the prison administration has engaged in unfair and illegal practices against him and other prisoners, including forcing him to wear leg cuffs between 8 am and 8 pm, and preventing him from sitting on a chair in his prison hospital room.

In a statement his sister and lawyer Shireen al-Essawy is reported as saying: "Samer will not accept to be sent into exile especially while Israel is escalating its violations that target the very existence of the Palestinians in their homes and lands." He has repeatedly made clear that he is willing to die for the cause of equal rights for the Palestinian people and is likely to do so very soon.
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Who wants to evict a Millionaire?

Kings Cross and Highgate, London. Sat 13 Apr 2013

Tories Against the (Bedroom) Tax protester on the Northern Line as UK Uncut travel to Archway
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Hundreds of UK Uncut supporters met at Kings Cross before travelling to party outside the Highgate home of Tory Peer Lord Freud, one of the millionaire architects of the bedroom tax in a lively but peaceful protest against this and other iniquitous new taxes and benefit cuts.

Baron Freud, a great grandson of the famed Sigumund, made millions on various deals as an investment banker before retiring from the city aged 53 in 2003, and three years later was appointed by Tony Blair to review the welfare and benefits system. He recommended a large role for the private sector in welfare and measures to encourage the disabled and single parents back into work; in 2008 he became an adviser on welfare to the New Labour government, and helped produce a white paper which would have required those on benefits either to work for them or take part in training.

Freud joined the Conservative party in 2009, and after being given a life peerage as Baron Freud became a shadow minister for welfare, and is now in the coalition government in charge of benefit reforms.

Measures which come into force now or in the next few months include the 'bedroom tax' which cuts housing benefits to those who have more rooms which, according to a rigidly applied formula, are declared spare. This will hit those who are foster carers, the disabled and single parents disproportionately, and many of those affected will be unable to pay the extra rents and will face eviction. Among those hit will be the disabled who have had expensive special adaptions to their homes and now have to move - and some 17,000 blind people. The tax pretends to be designed to reduce the pressure on the housing market by making people move into smaller homes, but these seldom available, particularly in social housing.

The benefits cap, being brought into effect across the country in stages by September puts a strict limit on the amounts that people may receive, and it seems inevitable that this will lead to many thousands being evicted, particularly in high rent areas such as London.

Other measures include a cut in legal aid and council tax benefits and an end to disability living allowances. Those benefits which remain will rise by less than inflation - a cut in real terms. And at the same time the 50p tax rate is being abolished, saving 13,000 millionaires around £100,000 each.

Several hundred people met in the concourse of Kings Cross station, watched by a large number of police, mainly around the edges of the area. The protesters marched off around noon, going down into the Underground station and taking the Northern Line to Archway.

Two groups then marched by different routes the mile or so to Baron Freud's house in Dartmouth Park, where police were standing outside waiting for them. The protesters made no attempt to enter the house but brought chairs, mattresses, a sofabed and pillows and held a bedroom tax protest party on the street outside.

First was a dramatic reading of a fairy tale in which the wicked lord saw the error of his ways, but we then got down to earth with a detailed exposition of some of the effects of the benefit cuts.

There was a huge cheer when it was announced that disabled activists from DPAC (Disabled Persons Against Cuts) had visited the home of Ian Duncan Smith and delivered an eviction notice there. Postcards were distributed and people urged to get into groups of two or three and to write together a postcard to Lord Freud, which UK Uncut would deliver. Someone from most of the groups then came to the microphone to read out their cards, though one or two declined to do so as there messages were unsuitable with all the police standing around.

Next was a quiz, with volunteers answering multiple choice questions about the various benefits and benefit cuts, with great hilarity and audience partition, after which a number of statements from people unable to attend the protest - mainly because of ill health - about the effect of the benefit cuts and bedroom tax on them.

There were a number of speakers at the event, including those from other groups fighting against the cuts including those from Barnet and the East End. Natalie Bennett, the Green Party leader, who had come on the event from Kings Cross as a supporter of UK Uncut gave a forceful speech that was highly appreciated by the protesters, and was followed by Owen Jones, who gave a superb performance that had everyone showing enthusiastic support. After he had spoken the occasional drizzle had turned into light rain, and although the protest was continuing many had decided it was time to leave, and I also left.
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'3 Cosas' -Sick Pay, Holidays & Pensions

Senate House, University of London. Wed 10 Apr 2013

The protesters making a noise in the open lobby under the Senate House
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Cleaners and other outsourced workers at the University of London held a noisy protest at Senate House calling for the same sick pay, holidays and pensions as directly employed workers there - the 3 causes in their continuing '3 Cosas Campaign.'

Currently workers on the site who are employed by contractors rather than by the University of London's central administration have inferior conditions of employment to directly employed workers, though they carry out essential work on the same site.

Outsourced workers are generally only entitled to the minimum Statutory Sick Pay (SSP), with no payment for the first three days out of work, after which they get the state provision of £85.85 per week in London. Those who are on the university payroll get considerable extra benefits on top of the SSP, depending on their length of service. A worker who has been in the job for more than five years is eligible for full pay for the first six months of absence, and then a further six months on half pay plus SSP (so long as this total does not exceed their normal pay.) The university can at its discretion increase the period of sick pay in exceptional cases.

Holiday entitlement for outsourced works is also usually the statutory minimum of 28 days paid holiday (including bank holidays) but some of the caterers are on 'zero hour contracts' which means they get no holiday pay at all. Last year when many university residential premises were in use for the Olympics, many cleaning staff were also prevented from taking any holidays during the summer period.

Direct employees at the university get between 33 and 38 normal days paid leave (including bank holidays) and also a number of 'school closure days', which brings some up to 44 days. The 3 Cosas Campaign is calling for similar treatment, as well as to have more flexibility over when they may take their holidays. Many of the workers have families in South America or Africa, and given the high travel costs in visiting them would like to be able to take longer than two week breaks.

Few outsourced workers have bought into pension schemes as the terms available to them are so poor. They want a provision with equal payments and benefits as the SAUL scheme for non-academic employees of the University of London, which costs is 6% of their gross salary and has an employer contribution of 13%.

Today's protest was organised by the Industrial Workers of Great Britain (IWGB), the union which now represents many of the cleaners at the university, and was supported by students, including a group of those who occupied Sussex University against the outsourcing of catering, cleaning, security, and other jobs there, and trade unionists, including some from the RMT and Unison. Around 80 protesters met up in the Senate House car park off Russell Square, with banners, IWGB flags, placards and drums, air-horns and megaphones. After loudly stating the basis of their demands, and chanting 'Sick Pay, Holidays, Pensions' the group with flags waving and drums beating marched into the lobby area underneath the Senate House tower and continued to state their demands noisily for around 10 minutes, watched by a few security men between them and the entrance.

The group then marched out and around the side of the building to an entrance opposite the North Entrance of the British Museum, where they attracted the attention of many of those visiting. Outside this doorway, Natalie Bennett, the leader of the Green Party, gave a brief message of support, which, like the other short speeches, was translated into Spanish for the benefit of some of the workers.

The protesters continued around the building to protest outside the entrance to Stewart House which contains most of the offices dealing with workers. After more noisy protests, the group, by now a little smaller as some had to leave for work or lectures returned for a final very noisy protest in the lobby underneath the main Senate House tower. I left as the protest was finishing with the usual reminder to the university that the protests will continue until the workers get justice - "We'll be back!"
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Feathers Fly in Trafalgar Square

Trafalgar Square, London. Sat 6 Apr 2013

A pillowfighter on a man's shoulders in Trafalgar Square
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Hundreds turned up armed with pillows for the Trafalgar Square pillow fight battle on World Pillow Fight Day, adults and a few children enjoying the free fun event organised by the urban playground movement here and in other cities around the world.

The urban playground movement aims to make cities into more public and social spaces by encouraging unique happenings like today's pillow fight. It aims to partially replace "passive, non-social, branded consumption experiences like watching television" and to consciously reject "the blight on our cities caused by the endless creep of advertising into public space." They hope this will result in "a global community of participants, not consumers."

It was perhaps unfortunate that one company had decided to make use of the event as a PR stunt by bringing a team of young women and handing out free pillows with prominent branding, which seemed to directly subvert the aim of the event. But despite this, it was a largely unbranded event, with hundreds bringing their own cushions and pillows to use as weapons, and having great fun wielding them.

There were around 90 pillow fights planned for today in cities in around 30 countries around the world. Two had been planned for London, but relatively few people with pillows turned up in Hyde Park and the park police prevented it from taking place. There were too many people in Trafalgar Square for the heritage wardens to stop it had they tried, and as well as over 500 taking an active part there were at least as many watching the event. Which again was perhaps unfortunate as it is meant to be something to take part in rather than a spectacle.

The fight started dead on time at 3pm, though a few small children had not been able to wait. Soon there were feathers and down flying, and by half an hour later the whole of the central area was covered. The fight paused for a few seconds of half-time and then quickly restarted. I left shortly after, as the dust was beginning to make my throat rather dry and I needed a drink.
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PMOI Protest Iraqi killings

Downing St, London. Sat 6 Apr 2013

The People's Mujahedin of Iran chant in unison, calling for an enquiry into Iraqi killing in their camps

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The People's Mujahedin of Iran (PMOI) protested in Whitehall calling for an enquiry into the Iraqi attacks on Camp Liberty where their members are held in February and previous attacks which have killed and injured many of them.

The PMOI, also known as the Mojahedin-e-Khalq, (MEK) was formed as a leftist political mass movement in Iran in 1965 and was one of the groups that took part in the 1979 revolution against the Shah. After the revolution it at first sided with Ayatollah Khomeni but was soon involved in an armed struggle with the Islamic Revolutionary Guards, eventually having to take refuge in neighbouring Iraq, where Saddam Hussein gave it refuge.

After the US invasion of Iraq when its camps were bombed, a ceasefire was agreed with the US and the MEK renounced violence and gave up its arms - including 19 Chieftain tanks and the party became the main part of the Iranian parliament in exile, the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), with its base in Paris. In Iraq, the roughly 5000 MEK fighters were confined in the refugee Camp Ashraf, guarded by the US military and declared by the US as protected persons under the Fourth Geneva Convention. The camp was transferred to Iraqi control at the start of 2009, and in 2012 those remaining were transferred to the former US military base Camp Liberty in Bagdhad, renamed Camp Hurriya.

Both Camp Ashraf and Camp Liberty have been attacked by Iraqi security forces, with a raid in July 2009 on Camp Ashraf killing 11 and injuring over 500. They also arrested 36, who were later released in near death condition following an extended hunger strike. There was a further attack in October 2010 and in January 2011, when 176 were wounded, apparently by Iraqis paid by the Iranian government. In April 2011, Iraqi security forces attacked again an 36 camp residents were killed and 320 injured. Camp Liberty was attacked by the Iraqis on 9 Feb 2013 using mortars and rockets, with at least 7 deaths and many injuries. The MEK residents have appealed to the UN Secretary General and the US for help, and to be allowed to move back to Camp Ashraf, which has concrete buildings which give greater protection.

The MEK is regarded as a terrorist group by both Iraq and Iran, but the EU removed them from its list of terrorist groups in 2009 and the US in 2012. But they are alleged to have carried out severe human rights abuses against former members. After they left Camp Ashraf there were several allegations that mass graves were found there, but the MEK say that these reports were part of a continuing Iranian demonization campaign against them, and point out that US and UN investigations have been unable to confirm the reports. Cables released by Wikileaks show the US appear to support the MEK claims.

Around 50 members of the PMOI protested opposite Downing St calling on the British government to support their demands for an enquiry into the attacks and to protest against the rulers of Iran and Iraq they hold responsible.
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No to Bedroom Tax & Benefit Caps

Downing St, London. Sat 6 Apr 2013

The protest was organised by the Counihan-Sanchez Housing Campaign
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The Counihan-Sanchez Family Housing Campaign from Kilburn organised a protest opposite Downing St against the unfair Bedroom tax and benefit caps which are effecting so many people and called for the GLA to build more social housing.

The fight of the Counihan-Sanchez family to get fair treatment from Brent Council after they honestly declared to the housing department the income of £18 a week from a small patch of ground in rural Ireland has been an inspiration to many. The council's response - and that of local MP Glenda Jackson - shocked many and the continuing campaign by the family and their supporters has alerted many to the wider problems of social housing and housing benefits.

Although the protest was on a much smaller scale than last weekend's Bedroom Tax protest with around 30 people taking an active part, it was one that got the the roots of the issue and the very real problems that austerity has already produced for many that will be greatly exacerbated by the new tax and benefit changes. We heard about the real impact of cuts on real people trying to live ordinary lives rather than the opinions of the wealthy and out of touch that dominate political policies and discourse and the media. From people who really know the problems of living on - for example - £53 per week, week after week.

Among those who spoke at the open microphone was Adrienne from Harrow who fought to get the council to give her proper housing for her and her daughter after having been for a long time in unsatisfactory temporary accomodation. A man from Kilburn Unemployed Workers Group spoke about the suicide of Nigel Firminger after he worked for three months of work without getting paid and was then denied a return to benefits; unable to cope when he was to be evicted for rent arrears he took his own life.

The huge housing problems in London come from the failure over the past thirty years to provide social housing for the many low paid workers that support the city and keep it running, with a housing benefit system that has simply acted as a subsidy for private landlords and driven up rents. The cap on benefit will do nothing to solve the problem, but just make life difficult or impossible for the poorest in our society. We need more social housing and an end to poverty pay and of course more jobs.

The problem isn't confined to our inner cities. I returned home to be told by my wife of a family living in our Surrey suburb who had been refused any benefit and had no money at all for food or for their gas and electricity meter and who had gone for help to a local church as their only hope. They should be able to get referred to our local foodbank - but at the earliest in three days time, and to get any emergency payment will have to go to a Citizen's Advice Bureau in a neighbouring area, around 7 miles away, who will then assess them and get a decision from the County Council which may result in payment. They had not been told how to do this, and had no money for the fare to the CAB - and a medical condition that made walking a problem. The church had fortunately been able to offer some advice and a little practical support - as well as tea, cake and sympathy - when the walked in on a Saturday morning, but this is a relatively rich country and it is surely unacceptable for anyone to be left in such desperate circumstances. Welfare reform shouldn't mean the end of support for those in extreme circumstances.
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Vaisakhi "Save a Live" Vigil

Old Palace Yard, Westminster, London. Sat 6 Apr 2013

Sikhs call for an end to the death penalty in India
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Thousands of Sikhs and others from across England came to Parliament to back the Kesri Lehar vigil against the death penalty in India where there are increasing fears that Balwant Singh Rajoana and others among the 477 on death row will be hanged. The protest was timed to take place at the Sikh festival of Vaisahki.

The Kesri Lehar or 'I Pledge Orange' campaign, takes its name from the colour which stands for sacrifice in the Indian flag and is also the colour of the Sikh flag and the dress worn by baptised Sikhs which makes Vaisakhi such a colourful festival. It began as an on-line campaign by the US-based Sikhs for Justice, and with the strap-line 'the wave for justice' campaigns against the "ongoing and, disturbing atrocities that are being committed in the Republic of India, that, infringe the basic human rights of the minority communities, which includes but is not limited to the Sikhs, Christians, Muslims and Dalits (India's untouchables)."

An important part of the campaign is against the death penalty in India, and the campaign in the UK with more than 120,000 signatures on the petition led the House of Commons to recently debate and agree a backbench motion:

"That this House welcomes the national petition launched by the Kesri Lehar campaign urging the UK Government to press the Indian government to sign and ratify the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court and the UN Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhumane or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, which encompasses the death penalty, with the result that India would abolish the death penalty and lift this threat from Balwant Singh Rajoana and others."

MP John McDonnell stated "the historical relationship between India and Britain means that the UK Government is uniquely placed to urge the Indian government to end the death penalty. Therefore I'm calling on the UK Government to use every forum, every mechanism of communication established with India both formal and informal, to press the Indian government to halt the executions now and then to sign up to the UN Convention opposing the death penalty" and he urged the British government to get other European governments to join with them in urging India to stop executions and sign the UN convention.

There are currently over 470 prisoners who have been sentenced to death held in Indian prisons, some who have been there for many years, and actual executions are rare.

Among the death row prisoners is Balwant Singh Rajoana, sentenced for his part in a suicide bomb attack which killed a former Chief Minister of Punjab, Beant Singh and 17 others in 1995. Sikhs held Beant Singh responsible for the extra-judicial killing of over 25,000 Sikh civilians during his period of office in a determined policy to stamp out the activities of Sikh separatists who called for an independent Sikh state of Khalistan. Rajoana was to be hanged in 2012, but the execution was stayed after demands for clemency from some Sikh organisations. Recently there have been renewed demands for his hanging.

Among those at today's rally opposite Parliament was a large group from Derby, supporting Professor Devender Pal Singh Bhullar who has been on death row in India for 18 years, for his alleged involvement in a car bomb in Delhi. Supporters say there is no evidence to connect him with the attack for which he was convicted.

Sikhs point to the way that the Indian government, police and legal system discriminate against minorities, and their failure to take any effective action against Hindu extremists, whose outrages against minorities at times appear to have been encouraged by the authorities.
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Thames Path: Cricklade to the Source

Cricklade to Kemble, Wiltshire. Thur 4 Apr 2013

Thames Head, where the Thames first becomes visible
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The breakfast at the White Hart was disappointing. Particularly after the day before at Buscot Manor, but it would have disappointed on any day, but at least it didn't detain us long and we made an early start with a quick walk around the town before joining the Thames path. When we got a bit more of a walk around the town than we wanted, as flooding on the North Meadow meant there was a diversion of the Thames Path, taking us down a rather boring back street and on past the sports centre to a path along a disused railway. We'd been warned about it earlier as we bought sandwiches in the small supermarket on the High Street, apparently there has been flooding there for almost a year, and the diversion notice says "The Thames has changed course and is now flowing over the Trail just inside Gloucestershire".

It wasn't a bad detour, taking us along a sheltered path on a rather cold and windy day and we rejoined the old route where it joined the railway line for a few hundred metres before we turned off and followed its progress between a series of gravel pits, seeing the Thames for a few hundred metres on the way. There was a bitter wind blowing across the open water, with flurries of snow, and walking became a little miserable, but eventually we reached Ashton Keynes. At its centre this gets a little picturesque, and there are three crosses in various stages of repair. We were disappointed the pub didn't open until noon, and went to look at the church instead, and it was open and we spent a little time inside, and since it was just noon when we came out, went back to the pub for a pint or a coffee.

Past Ashton Keynes, the Thames disappears into a series of worked out grave pits, and we were surprised on one of them to suddenly see the Lower Mill Estate, a nature reserve with "eco-friendly luxury second-homes" which is the curious brainchild of eccentric millionaire Jeremy Paxton who died suddenly of an undected heart condition in February, aged only 53. We saw little of the positive side of this "vision for sustainable living alongside wildlife in the countryside" and although it apparently includes distinctive architect-designed modern buildings, those we saw at close range were rather tedious. Paxton apparently sometimes used a 200 horse-power water jet-pack to travel the 30 miles along the river from his riverside home near Reading to the estate (possibly the only way to really navigate the upper reaches, though it does have to pull a small boat behind to carry the powerful engine so I doubt if it would be possible in the current state of the river.) The publicity video calls "the ultimate toy", and, like second homes, it seems essentially eco-unfriendly. He also managed to get permission to abseil down the Shard for charity.

Past this we had a short walk along a busy road and then were in another 'country park' - more old gravel pits. We sat at a picnic table and ate our sandwiches, despite the bitter cold before hurrying on. The Thames was a much narrower stream by now and there were some real fords that tractors could use - or possibly passable with a decent pair of wellingtons.

At Ewen the path left the Thames again and went through the village on the road for around a kilometer, joining it again where it met the road and then going a couple of kilmetres more or less alongside of it to Thames Head. The stream petered out in some long grass and a bit of a swamp just below the A433, but the path went on, with some greener patches of grass and a couple of puddles or ponds. We kept on the track through a gate and past a few trees to a patch of stones marking the completely dry site of the spring, marked by a stone as the source of the River Thames. A couple of elderly men with a very amateur looking camcorder asked if they could take some video of a film they were making about the Thames and we were recorded at the spot. I took a picture of my companions at the stone with Sam's camera (I needed to change my battery as one had just run out) and then we made our way back to a footpath that led off towards Kemble station.

We got there just a few minutes after the train to Swindon had left, and had almost an hour to wait for the next. There was a very comfortable-looking waiting room - but it was locked. It was too cold to sit for an hour at the station. We crossed over and went out the other side, past a pub that looked pretty closed and walked thorugh the village to All Saints Church. It was locked. It's apparently an interesting interior. Next door was Kemble House, Grade II listed and dating from the late 17th century. We walked back to the station, now just 10 minutes to wait. Except the train was 5 minutes late and was terminating at Swindon instead of going on to Reading. There was supposed to be a connection at Swindon and we were worried we might miss it and we rushed across to the platform. But it was 15 minutes late. There is something about station platforms that makes them icy cold, and there was a truly cutting wind. The train was pretty full, but at least we got a seat and after another change at Reading we were home at last.
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Thames Path: Buscot to Cricklade

Buscot, Oxfordshire - Cricklade, Wiltshire. Wed 3 Apr 2013

St John the Baptist at Inglesham, saved by William Morris from the threat of Gothicist 'restoration'

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Buscot Manor was both comfortable and interesting, a bed and breakfast in a traditional English manor house, but fortunately for the time of year with a very efficient heating system. It was a welcoming place, comfortable in an old-fashioned way. Our room wasn't one with a four-poster bed, but it was large and comfortable, as was the breakfast, served around a large table, and the conversation with the other guests added to the experience as we were served a modern version of an old-fashioned English breakfast. I ended up so full it was hard to get up and start walking.

Before rejoining the Thames Path we made a tour of the village, which seems largely owned by the National Trust. It's an interesting place, although perhaps a little disappointing that its modernisation in the second half of the nineteenth century - complete with its own narrow-gauge rail system and a distillery manned by French workers - seems to have left only sparse visible traces (they do include a very large early concrete barn.) A couple of miles down the road is the stately home built by one of the former inhabitants of the manor house we had stayed in who wanted something considerably grander, but we didn't have time for the detour and visit. We went to the church, but it was locked because this was Easter week when they have various vestments etc around, and then returned across the lock to walk along the Thames.

There were more bends and pillboxes and a bridge took us across the river and on to St John's Lock, where we said hello to Old Father Thames, originally made for the Crystal Palace in 1854, later relocated to Thames Head and then moved here a few years ago for safety. This is the highest lock on the Thames, and few boats go above the next bridge we reached, Halfpenny Bridge close to the centre of Lechlade, although theoretically the river is navigable to Cricklade.

We almost got stuck in Lechlade too, having gone into the town to buy some sandwiches from the supermarket facing the market square, and taking a look around inside the rather magnificent church, my companions were snared into a tea-shop and I followed them. Finally they managed to drage themselves out and we returned back down Thames St to rejoin the walk.

Unfortunately this delay meant we really didn't have time to explore a little around the mouth of the River Coln and the start of the Thames and Severn canal, abandoned in 1927, parts of which have now been restored. We cpntinued on the path to the Church of St John the Baptist at Inglesham, a splendid medieval survival thanks to the efforts of William Morris, who along with his pre-Raphaelite friends founded the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB) or 'Anti-Scrape' to oppose the gothicisation of buildings such as these.

The next section of the Thames Path is probably the least satisfactory parts of the whole path, with a lengthy diversion along the verges of the busy A361. Perhaps at some point in the canal restoration it would be possible to divert along its banks, perhaps rejoining the Thames at Kempsford which we finally saw across the river. I don't know if the George there is open during the afternoon, but it was a great disappointment on coming into the next village, Castle Eaton, that The Red Lion, which advertises itself as the 'first pub on the Thames' is closed most afternoons. At least we were able to go inside the village church, but otherwise this was a less impressive village than most and I was glad when we left it to walk beside the Thames to Cricklade.

It seemed a long trek to Cricklade, the sun getting lower and the river going every direction except a straight line to there. Although some have changed to other uses, the High Street there seems well supplied with pubs, and we had rooms booked at the poshest and oldest, the White Hart, the principal inn at Cricklade since the time of Elizabeth 1. They were in a modern extension at the back of the inn. It was comfortable but lacked the character of the manor house of the previous night, and we got a decent Indian meal a little further up the street.
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Thames Path: Shifford to Buscot

Hinton Waldrist - Buscot, Oxfordshire. Tue 2 Apr 2013

The Thames meanders across a flat flood plain (but the cylindrical perspective exaggerates the curve a little)
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The Thames Path as you get towards the source of the river goes through some fairly isolated areas, little served by public transport. My wife and son had decided they needed to book a couple of nights bed and breakfast to finish it, and I went with them. They had thought that early April would be a good time to walk, expecting normal spring weather, but when we set off from home on Tuesday morning the temperature was only just coming up to zero after a cold night. Despite the sun it didn't get more than a degree or so warmer all day, but we were well wrapped up and it was pleasant weather for walking. And with a week or so with little rain, there was little flooding although river levels were still high.

The first train took us to Reading, where most of the track seemed still to be missing and the Bank Holiday engineering works were still in full swing, but there were a couple of platforms open on the far side of the station and trains were running through (unlike on the previous day) and our train to Oxford was only around 15 minutes late. Fortunately we had planned with this in mind, rather than take the later train which the journey planner had suggested, which we heard as we waited for ours, had been cancelled, and we arrived in Oxford in good time for the bus which would take us to Hinton Waldrist. It was a small bus, and there were few passengers, for the last five miles or so just the threee of us and the driver, and on the lane taking us up to the church it squeezed past a parked tractor with only a few millimeters to spare.

We walked down the lane to Duxford. Supposedly a 'genuine ford' across the old stream of the Thames, it would have taken a very foolhardy traveller to attempt the deep and fast-flowing stream today. The path beside the river had fallen into the water in a few places and we had to make detours, and I managed to slip into a bramble patch and get a few scractches, but eventually we joined the Thames path at the bridge across the old river to Shifford lock and made our way along the cut and over the river.

We'd walked around 8km - and only met one other walker coming in the opposite direction - when we came to Tadpole Bridge and were just in time to have lunch at the pub there. Its the kind of pub that fancies itself as a restuarant, usually bad news, but the only game for miles, and I was hungry after the walking. But the usual rule that the longer the menu description the higher the price and the worse the food applied - or perhaps it was the chef's day off. At least my plate (I'd have called it fish and chips) was decently filling, while the vegetarian option chosen by my companions probably worked out at about 10p per calorie. Give me pub food rather than cuisine minceur any day. But at least the local beer was excellent, the service was prompt and we were soon on our way again.

More river, more trees, more pillboxes - along this part of the Thames was GHQ Line Red, built in 1940 to defend Birmingham and the Midlands should the Germans have invaded, though I don't think they would seriously have impeded their advance - but not a lot else. Radcot Bridge is perhaps 5km away as the crow flies, but if you follow every wind of the river (and mostly we and the path did) the distance probably doubles. There is another pub at Radcot, but we were a little late to pause there, and continued on another 4 or 5km to Kelmscott.

The manor there is open on Wednesdays and Saturdays from April to October, but it was a Tuesday - it was due to open for the first time this year the following day. Unfortunately we didn't have time to return. But the village pub was open, and it was time for another pint of local brew for me, before we walked up the lane to St George's Church, where a simple memorial in the churchyard marks the grave of William Morris. Despite the temperature it was pleasant to sit for a few minutes in the sun there and eat a sandwich or two.

The detour in the village added a little over a kilometer to our route, and there was another three or four to go before we reached our destination for the day, Buscot Manor. With various detours we'd probably walked fifteen or sixteen miles and I was feeling pretty tired. We sat and read for a bit in front of a wood fire and then I went to soak in a hot bath to ease some of my aches and pains.
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Nuclear Fool's Day - Scrap Trident

Aldermaston, Berkshire. Mon 1 Apr 2013

Protesters listen to speeches at the Tadley Gate of the UK's nuclear bomb factory
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Thousands protested at the UK's extensive Aldermaston nuclear bomb factory, with groups at each gate calling for an end to the UK's illegal and immoral nuclear weapons, and for Trident to be scrapped and not replaced, saving well over £100 billion.

The Easter Monday protest by CND took place on April Fool's Day and aimed to tell the government to 'stop fooling with nuclear weapons' and that the people were not fooled by the wholly specious arguments still being made for a UK 'independent' nuclear deterrent. As some of the speakers stated, whatever it had once been meant to deter against no longer exists, and the growing stockpile of nuclear weapons only increases the risks of them getting into the wrong hands, and our
so-called 'independent' nuclear capability could only ever be used with US consent.

Speakers also stressed the many useful things that could be done with the billions of pounds that is currently being spent on developments on the Aldermaston site, as well as the over £100 billions cost of replacing Trident. Although theoretically the decision on Trident has been postponed until 2016, the current expansion programme in our nuclear capability suggests that the decision has in fact already been taken.

By the start of the protest at noon there were groups of between 50 and several hundred at each of half a dozen gates around the over 5 miles of the site perimeter, with others walking around the path around the site, attaching messages and banners to its tall security fence. Some had brought flowers to fix to the fence or planted daffodils in front of it. Gates had been allocated to different groups from around the country, and there was also a women's gate and a faith gate, with Christians, Buddhists and others. Police were standing behind the gates, with a few mixing with the protesters, and others driving around the roads by the site.

A small lorry and a couple of cars took a group of speakers around the gates. Among those I heard were CND Vice-Chairs Jeremy Corbyn MP and Bruce Kent, CND General Secretary Kate Hudson, Green Party Leader Natalie Bennett and South East Green MEP Keith Taylor, Stop the War's Chris Nineham and CND founding member Pat Arrowsmith and another veteran Walter Wolfgang, as well as US activist Linda Pentz Gunter, the founder of 'Beyond Nuclear'. One of the women taking part in the monthly peace camp protests continuing at Aldermaston also spake and I was sorry to have missed 107 year old Hetty Bower, who I'd spoken to last month.

At the 'Faith Gate' there was a short 'Easter Resurrection Hope' service in which an 'Alleluia' which had been symbolically placed in a coffin at the Ministry of Defence in London on Shrove Tuesday at the beginning of Lent was lifted out and held aloft, with a call for 'a new heaven and a new earth' and the hope that 'light and love might overcome the shadow of destruction in this place.' This was followed by some Buddhist prayers, and some statements from other faith groups about peace.

Across the road were stalls serving tea and coffee, and all around the protesters were picnicking. Many had brought musical instruments to play and also to make a loud noise around the site as the finale of the event, in which others joined banging pots and pans, whistling and shouting. It was in many ways as intended an inspirational event, with banners, placards, songs and messages reflecting the creativity of many of those involved in the peace movement.
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my london diary index

April 2013

Stoke Poges Walk
Ten Years of Genocide in Darfur
London Invaded by Sci-Fi Fantasy
Iranian Greens May Day Protest
Workers Memorial Day
Hizb ut-Tahrir protest Bangladeshi Regime
Lonely Vigil at US Embassy
Save Ealing Hospital & the NHS
March of the Beekeepers
Get Britain Cycling Report Launch
UK herbalists Want Regulations
Gurkhas Call for equal treatment
Drax Biomass Threat to our Planet
Bring Shaker Aamer Home
Protest the Privatisation of NHS
Stand Off at Venezuelan Embassy
Copts Say End Egyptian Persecution
Armenians Remember the Genocide
Supreme Court Nyamgiri Decision
G4S - Palestinian Prisoners Day
Don't Hang Prof Bhullar
Outlaw Caste Discrimination
Release Palestinian Prisoners
Who wants to evict a Millionaire?
'3 Cosas' -Sick Pay, Holidays & Pensions
Feathers Fly in Trafalgar Square
PMOI Protest Iraqi killings
No to Bedroom Tax & Benefit Caps
Vaisakhi "Save a Live" Vigil
Thames Path: Cricklade to the Source
Thames Path: Buscot to Cricklade
Thames Path: Shifford to Buscot
Nuclear Fool's Day - Scrap Trident


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