G4S & Israeli Prison Torture

Victoria St, London. Fri 28 Feb 2014

Protesters at G4S who run Israeli jails where Palestinians are tortured
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International Israeli Apartheid Week was marked by a protest outside the London offices of security firm G4S for their complicity in Israel's violations of international law and gross human rights abuses, including torture of women and children.

Protesters held banners and posters and Palestinian flags outside the Victoria St HQ of the worlds largest secuirty firm G4S who supply services to Israeli jails including the notorious Al-Jalame prison, where many Palestinians have been tortured and kept under cruel conditions.

Three floors below ground are a number of tiny children's cells, each about 2 metres by 1 metre, with a just a mattress and, behind a low concrete wall a hole in the ground toilet. There are no windows, and food is delivered through a flap in the door. The light is kept on 24 hours a day and the walls have sharp protrusions to prevent them being leant on. Some children as young as 12 have been kept in solitary confinement in these cells for up to 65 days, being taken out only to be interrogated while shackled hand and foot for up to 6 hours at a time. Some have complained of being sexually assaulted. This treatment is continued until they confess to such crimes as throwing a stone at Israeli forces - for which they may be sentenced to 20 years in jail.

The protesters handed out leaflets detailing several cases involving G4S secured prisons in Israel, including those of the Hares boys and Lena Jorboni.

Five young boys from the village of Hares were arrested following a traffic accident involving a car from an illegal Israeli settlement and an Israeli truck. The settlers who drove into the truck which had stopped to change a tyre insisted that they had been hit by Palestinian youths throwing stones.

50 children from Hares were arrested by Israeli soldiers with attack dogs, and 19 of them taken to the G4S secured childrens dungeon at Al Jalame, locked in solitary for up to 2 weeks. They were violently tortured and sexual threats were made against female members of their families to force confessions from them.

Five of the boys were then each charged with 25 counts of attempted murder - although the 4 passengers in the car were all uninjured. They are currently held in Megiddo prison where G4S provides the central command room. Their trial by military court has been postponed and postponed each month without notice, probably because there is no evidence against them. Despite this they are likely to be convicted and sentenced to 25 years in jail.

Lena Jarboni is a Palestinian with Israeli citizenship who was 28 when she was arrested and tortured for 30 days at Al-Jalame, with interrogations lasting up to 20 hours at a time on suspicion of "collaborating with the enemy". Between these sessions she too was kept in solitary in a 2 metre by 1 metre underground cell. To try and get her to confess they brought in her younger brother and tortured him in front of her, then her younger sister. Finally when they brought in and threatened to torture her elderly mother who suffers from heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes Lena signed the false confession - and was sentenced to 17 years in HsSharon women's prison.

There like other prisoners she was beaten, insulted and threatened with sexual harrasment by the Israeli guards, and kept in overcrowded and filthy conditions with a total lack of basic hygiene. A 2008 study revealed that 38% of female Palestinian prisoners suffer from treatable diseases that go untreated; when Lena needed surgery whe was only allowed to be treated when all the other women prisoners threatened a hunger strike, but the long period of ill-treatment and negelct mean she has never recovered. She has now been in HaSharon prison for nearly 12 years and is thought unlikely to survive the remaining 5 years of her sentence.

The protesters demanded the immediate release of the Hares boys and Lena Jorboni and other prisoners unjustly held in Israel, and called on G4S to stop their support of these blatant violations of human rights.
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Students tell Vice Chancellor to Resign

Senate House, London University. Friday 28 Feb 2014

Students outside the Senate House
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Students at London University protested outside and inside Senate House calling on the Vice Chancellor to resign saying the University has have been cowardly, brutal and at odds with all that academic institutions and communities should stand for.

Students and many academic staff have been appalled by the action of the London University managers under Adrian Smith whose actions they say show that the only argument the University has against opposition is police brutality.

There have been mass arrests, injuries and blood on the streets, justified by saying such actions are necessary to uphold “Public Order”. The students want a democratic education, but London University is trying to shut down its student union, exploit and intimidate low-paid staff, increase fees and prevent protests. The UoL has taken out an injunction against any student occupation of the University.

One student from UCL was this week convicted of criminal damage for chalking “sick pay, holiday, pensions now” on a foundation stone at a protest in support of low paid staff last July. She was ordered to pay £200 towards prosecution costs and £810 to cover the cost of repairs to the stone - almost certainly the most expensive wipe with a damp cloth in history. Fortunately it was clear to the court from video taken when she was arrested that two police officers were lying in their accusation she had assaulted one of them.

The protest was called this afternoon as a meeting was taking place of Professor Sir Adrian Smith, University of London Vice Chancellor with the other University of London (UoL) Vice-Chancellors in Senate House to plan the continuance of their destructive governance. The student 'Take Back the University' protest was there to give them a simple message: 'Resign, immediately.'

Students met outside the University of London Union (ULU), one of the few remaining spaces in the university under democratic student control, which the UoL are trying to close down - while at the same time leading the lobbying by universities for higher fees of £9000 a year. The samba band came and started playing, and after a brief introduction everyone walked down the road to the Senate House.

As they approached the gates to the entrance area under the building, these were shut and locked by UoL security guards. After a short, noisy protest, the students decided to try and protest outside the rooms on the south side of the Senate House where they thought the meeting would be in session, and walked around into the street to do so. Unfortunately they were not sure where it would be.

After making some noise there, they walked around to the other side of Senate House, where again the gates were shut in their faces. A few students had managed to get inside, and a few minutes later another door around the side was opened and some of the protesters, accompanied by several photographers made their way inside.

There was still the problem that the protesters did not know where the Vice Chancellors were meeting. We made our way around the building without finding them, though as there were various other meetings and events taking place it might have been difficult to recognise them. Eventually they found their way to the balconies above the Crush Hall where below there were various conference delegates mainly taking their lunch, and continued their protest, using a megaphone to explain why they felt it necessary to protest and apologising for disturbing the delegates.

Security guards stood in front of the Vice Chancellors Office, and there was no attempt to push past them. Eventually the protesters went out into the lobby outside the main entrance. There they managed to hold the gates open as the security tried to close them, allowing some protesters who had ben left outside to come in and join the protest. After protesting for a while there, then then pushed past the security guards back into the building again for another tour. Again they failed to find the meeting, although there was some confusion when they found an academic meeing in progress, they soon stopped their noisy protest and retreated, eventually reaching the balconies again.

Some students then climbed through a window to the balcony outside the building. I decided to go outside, which took some time as by now the main entrance had been closed off and everyone coming in or out was being sent a very long way round along a basement corridor to neighbouring Stewart House.

When we finally got out to Montague Place there were a small group of students on the first floor balcony outside, peering into windows, presumably still looking for the meeting. The didn't seem to find it, but there was a window open into one of the Vice Chancellor's rooms, and they climbed in through it. At that point it seemed unlikely that much more would be happening that I could photograph and I left.
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Ukrainians Protest, Celebrate and Mourn

Notting Hill, London. Sat 22 Feb 2014

Ukrainian Orthodox priests lead a service of mourning for those killed in the revolution
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Ukrainians protested opposite the Russian embassy against Putin's interventions in their country, cheered when the heard the news from Ukraine of the ousting of Yanukovych and then held a sombre ceremony to mourn the protesters who have been killed.

Several hundred Ukrainians held a noisy protest opposite the Russian embassy in London, calling for an end to Russian interference in the Ukraine, for an end to violence, and for Yanukovych to go.

There were loud cheers when one of the protesters read the latest news from the Parliament in Kiev and of the replacement of the parliamentary speaker, attorney general and interior minister and the freeing of jailed opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko.

Also protesting opposite the Russian embassy were a group of Syrians and their supporters, calling on Russia to bring pressure on the Syrian government to stop killing Syrians, and the two groups protested together against President Putin.

After an hour of protest, the Ukrainians marched along Holland Park Avenue to the statue of St Volodymyr, ruler of Ukraine 980-1015, erected by Ukrainians in Great Britain in 1988 to celebrate the establishment of Christianity in Ukraine by St Volodymyr in 988.

Around the base of the statue were hundreds of lighted candles, along with flowers and other tributes to the many pro-opposition protesters who have been killed in Kiev and elsewhere in the Ukraine. Photographs of many of them were put around the statue.

There was then a service to remember those who have died to establish a free and independent Ukraine in the protests, led by two Ukrainian Orthodox priests, during which Ukrainian flags were held over the statue of St Volodymyr.
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Syrian Peace Protest at Russian Embassy

Notting Hill Gate, London. Sat 22 Feb 2014
Shouting at the Russian embassy
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Syrians and supporters at a regular protest opposite the Russian Embassy were today joined by hundreds of Ukrainians who also have suffered from a dictatorial regime influenced & backed by Russia protested them as they have also in Kiev. more pictures

Focus E15 Mums at City Hall

City Hall, London. Fri 21 Feb 2014

Focus E15 Mums make some noise at City Hall
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A group of young mothers facing eviction from a hostel in Stratford campaigning to be rehoused in London took their fight to City Hall today, holding a children's party and handing in a petition and card for Mayor Boris Johnson.

The Focus E15 mums invidted supporters to bring their children to the 'Focus Fun Bus Big Day Out', starting with a decorated bus taking them from Stratford where they are still living despite all those in the Mother and Baby Unit at the Focus E15 hostel being served with eviction notices last October.

The mothers and children are being evicted as Newham Council decided to cut its funding for the hostel, run by the East Thames Housing Association.

Newham and Stratford in particular is in the centre of a housing boom, with large blocks of flats being built, particularly around the Olympic site, including many by East Thames. Many are being bought up by investors, many from abroad wanting to cash in on London's housing price boom.

Almost next door to their hostel, the Carpenters Estate is being emptied; former resident Tawandra comments:

‘It is criminal that the Carpenters Estate in Stratford, next to the Olympic village, is being emptied and hostels like Focus E15 are closing. All this is happening whilst Newham has the highest waiting list for social housing in London. As a former resident of the Carpenters Estate, I am disgusted that secure affordable housing is lying empty while young mothers are being asked to live far away from their support network of family and friends. Mayor Boris Johnson has promised to tackle the housing crisis facing many desperate Londoners. Now is the time to live up to that promise by building more decent affordable housing accessible to Londoners, not just housing for foreign investors.’

But, as Jasmin Stone, one of the young mothers in the campaign, says:

‘We have met with Robin Wales (Mayor of Newham) who stated that there are no properties in the area.' None that is for those who cannot afford the high market rents, and very few propertes event at the 20% discount of what are called 'affordable' rents. What the Mayor is in effect saying is that if you are poor, Newham doesn't want you. The council have offered accommodation far outside of London, in Birmingham, Manchester and Hastings, threatening that anyone who does not take up these offers will be regarded as having made themselves intentionally homeless and will get no help from the council.

Jasmin and the other mothers remain firm:

"Mothers of Focus E15 have been battling East Thames and Newham council for our right to stay in London. We are still strong and will not give up. Newham council and East Thames have continuously blamed each other for what is happening and failed to take responsibility...

"We are being forced to accept expensive, sometimes poor quality, insecure one year private rents. Because of our campaigning so far, some mums have been offered private rented accommodation in London. But this isn’t good enough. This appears to be a victory, however it is also a very effective way of stalling our eventual eviction from London. The private rented accommodation offered is extremely short term and rents often above the benefit cap, meaning many of us can expect eviction after a year. Our children need stability and a long term, affordable housing solution in London."

The mothers and children came with banners, boxes and play tents and set them up opposite the doorways of City Hall, in the privately owned 'More London' business estate next to Tower Bridge. Although they were allowed to protest there, they were not allowed to hand out leaflets by the More London Security.

The children got down to play and the mothers and their supporters to protest, with a number of short speeches. They see their personal campaign very much in a wider context, an opposition to the wider social cleansing that is taking place across London. In a letter they delivered for the Mayor they made three demands:

1. For all the residents of the Focus E15 to be placed within suitable socially rented accommodation in Newham.
2. For the Mayor to commit to providing suitable, genuinely affordable housing to the people of London.
3. For the Mayor to take action to stop people having to leave their homes and communities because of the lack of affordable housing.

Boris Johnson has made it clear that he is opposed to the gentrification of London, stating: ‘The last thing we want to have in our city is a situation such as Paris where the less well-off are pushed out to the suburbs’ and promising ‘I'll emphatically resist any attempt to recreate a London where the rich and poor cannot live together...’ As the mothers pointed out, it is time now for him to take action to oppose the social cleansing that is now taking place.

The mothers and others at the protest also signed a card for Boris, on its cover a picture of Dorothy on the yellow brick road back in Kansas and the caption her famous quote 'There's no place like home' and inside a message from the mothers asking him to support them. As I left they were taking it inside City Hall to try and deliver it to him. They weren't allowed to do so and nobody from his office would come to collect it from them.
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Atos National Day of Action

Triton Square, London. Wed 19 Feb 2014

Paula Peters of DPAC speaking outside the ATOS offices
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Protesters outside the Atos HQ called for the company to lose its contracts and be prosecuted for its mishandling of Work Capability Assessment testing, and for these and Minister Ian Duncan Smith, both discredited failures, to go.

The protest outside the offices in Triton Square was a part of a National Day of Action with protests at each of the 144 ATOS assessment centres around the country, including those at Wimbledon, Neasden, Marylebone, Highgate, Ealing, Balham and Croydon in London.

The day of protest was supported by campaign groups Disabled people Against Cuts (DPAC), Black Triangle, Atos Miracles, the Green Party, NUS, Occupy New Network, PCS, Unite and many other groups.

There is widespread recognition - even now among many supporters of the welfare reforms and the WCA (Work Capability Assessment) that Atos have applied these tests in a seriously incomptent manner, resulting in many disabled people being unfairly refused benefits.

The failure of the WCA was established several years ago in a report commissioned by the government itself, which pointed out serious flaws, and over 40% of appeals after people have had their benefits cut by Atos assessments have been allowed (and over 70% where the appellants have been assisted in their appeals by benefits experts.) But appeals take months, during which many are in abject poverty. There has been a steady stream of suicides - two in one week in December - directly linked to Atos assessments.

The protest organisers issude a statement of intent before the protest, calling for assessments of fitness to work to be made by qualified medical doctors, ideally by "the GP who regularly sees and treats the sick or disabled individual in question" who they say "is the only person able to decide if an individual is fit for work."

Current tests are based on 'tick boxes' on a computer based test, which fail to cater for the complex nature of people's illnesses, particularly for the mentally ill. They have also resulted in many in the later stages of long-term degenerative and terminal illnesses such as Parkinson's and cancer being judged fit for work.

The government released figures for 2011 which showed that in that year from January to Novermber, 10,600 people - 223 per week -died within six weeks of having been declared fit for work by ATOS assessments. After the adverse public reaction to this, they have refused to respond to freedom of information requests for corresponding figures for later years.

Many of the local protests around the country at Atos centres started at 8am, and there were reports coming in of some offices being closed for the day, and at least one at which the Atos staff joined the protesters. In Triton Square things got underway a little later at around 10.30, with a rousing speech from Dennis Skinner MP, who in Prime Minister's Questions in October raised the case of David Coupe, a constituent of his who died from cancer 11 months after Atos stripped him of his benefit and whle he was still waiting for his appeal to be heard - and forced an admission from David Cameron that Atos needed to improve. Then and today Mr Skinner called ont he government to "abolish the cruel, heartless monster called ATOS" which is clearly "not fit for purpose."

It does at the moment look likely that ATOS will go, but it is the nature of the assessment that needs to be changed, and also the policies behind the use of private companies such as these.

A later speaker was Ian Jones from the WOW group which gained over 104,000 signatures on a petition calls for an assessment of the impact of welfare reform on disabled people and those with a long term health condition as well as family carers, and an end to the Work Capability Assessment, and has gained a debate on this in the House of Commons on 27 Februry,

Paula Peters of DPAC (Disabled People Against Cuts) gave a powerful and emotional address about the effects of the ATOS assessments on the disabled, including the suicides of several of her friends. Green Party leader Natalie Bennett also suported the campaign stating that the activities of ATOS were "a further, dreadful, example of the government’s failed outsourcing experiment. They have inflicted misery and fear on millions of people, and this must end."

I also heard journalist Sonia Poulton, who wrote an open letter to Ed Milliband in the Daily Mail in August 2012 give a powerful address; the Labour Party have so far shown little understanding of the issues. The Rev Paul Nicolson of Taxpayers Against Poverty spoke briefly about David Cameron's response in the Daily Telegraph to the criticisms by Archbishop Nichols of the shameful deterioration of welfare provision, saying that Cameron had failed to understand the situation of the poor and was unaware of how the benefits system actually works. There just isn't a safety net for those who have to wait for benefits to be processed or are 'sanctioned' either for trivial reasons or often in error, or lose essential benefits because of wrong decisions by ATOS.

The protest was attended by around 80 mainly disabled demonstrators, with a very large police presence, probably twice as many, apparently including riot police and a special event surviellance van parked a few yards away from the ATOS offices, its pole-mounted cameras swivelling to record people coming to the protest. But this was a peaceful protest and there were no problems, the police simply standing and watching, with some coming to talk with the protesters and showing an interest in why they were protesting.

During the protest, the names of some of those who have committed suicide as a result of being failed by ATOS assessments were read out, a wreath was laid with the message 'RIP 10,600 X' and there was a silence in their memory.

At the end of the protest, those remaining moved into the wider square off the Euston Road and released yellow balloons in memory of those who have taken their lives because of ATOS unfairly refused them support, as Paula Peters of DPAC read a poem about the deaths.
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NUJ demands Egypt release jailed journalists

Egyptian Embassy, South St, London. Wed 19 Feb 2014

A man with black tape across his mouth at the protest for freedom of the press
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The NUJ organised a protest for Press Freedom at the Egyptian Embassy calling for the release of all jailed journalists, including the four Al Jazeera journalists.

At the end of January, 20 journalists were charged with offenses including being a “member of a terrorist organization, disturbing public peace, instilling terror, harming the general interests of the country, possessing broadcast equipment without permit, possessing and disseminating images contrary to the truth."

The 20 included thre three Al Jazeera journalists who were detained on SDecember 29th 2013, Canadian-Egyptian producer Mohamed Fahmy, Australian correspondent Peter Greste and Egyptian producer Baher Mohamed. A colleague Abdullah Elshamy had been held for six months.

NUJ General Secretary Michelle Stanistreet and Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn took a letter up the steps to the main door of the embassy, but after having been photographed there were told to go to the next door along the street.

The NUJ protest with hashtags #FreeAJStaff and #JournalismIsNotTerrorism and placards with photographs of the Al Jazeera journalists was one of a number by journalists around the world, many organised by members of the Foreign Correspondents' Association of East Africa, which Al Jazeera correspondent Peter Greste belongs to. As well as NUJ members and other members of Al Jazerra staff in the UK, there were also protesters from Amnesty and IACPDA (the International Anti Coup Pro-Democracy Alliance,) a pro-Morsi Islamist coalition.

Some of those protesting wore tape gags across their mouths, accusing Egypt of gagging the press. Placards stressed that 'Journalism is not Terrorism!!!' and others said 'Being a Journalist is Not a Crime.'
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Free Margaretta D’Arcy picket

Irish Embassy, London. Wed 19 Feb 2014

The Troops Out of Ireland campaign banner against US military use of Shannon was made in 1991
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A third picket was held at the Irish Embassy today to demand the immediate release of Margaretta D'Arcy, imprisoned for protesting against illegal US flights from Shannon Airport, and now in Mountjoy Women’s Prison, Dublin.

Ms D’Arcy, a veteran of the Women's Peace Camp at the US airbase on Greenham Common, is 79 and is undergoing treatment for cancer and suffers from arthritis in her neck. An an acclaimed writer, actress, playwright and film director, she is the widow of author John Arden. She has been arrested many times for her peace protests.

Protests continue to be held in Ireland, with growing support for her release. She was imprisoned for lying down on the runway at Shannon in a peaceful direct action by members of Galway Alliance Against War against the use since 2001 of Shannon by US war planes in violation of Irish neutrality. Recently she has been visited in jail by Sinn Fein' President Gerry Adams, who called again for Margaretta’s release on live TV, saying she is not the criminal.

I arrived shortly after the protest started when there were only around a dozen supporters there, with banners and placards. More were expected to arrive later.
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Solidarity vigil for Shawki Ahmed Omar

Elavston Place, London. Wed 19 Feb 2014
Narmeen Saleh Al Rubaye and her daughter Zeinab at the vigil for Shawki Ahmed Omar at the Iraqi consulate
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A solidarity vigil took place opposite the Iraqi consulate in West London for Shawki Ahmed Omar, an American citizen held and tortured in Iraq by US and Iraqis since his arrest in 2004, and now in Abu Ghraib.

His wife Narmeen Saleh Al Rubaye, born in the US and currently living in Birmingham and his young daughter Zeinab hold regular vigils calling for his release and where there when I visited briefly with two other protesters in support.

He has been denied medical care or access to lawyers the whole time he has been held and his wife is petitioning the Iraqi ambassador in the UK for information about his well-being and his release, and she and her daughter - who has never seen her father - have carried out regular vigils outside the US embassy and elsewhere.

Omar was born in Kuwait to Palestinian parents and has dual Jordanian-American citizenship. He and his wife were both arrested during a family part in Baghdad in October 2004. They were both subjected to various forms of torture including electric shocks, having their heads plunged into cold water and being subjected to extremes of hot and cold.

Mrs Al Rubaye was 4 months pregnant at the time, but telling her captors that simply made them treat her more badly. She was released after 16 days, and in 2006 managed to leave Iraq and come to the UK.

Her husband remains in prison, accused of being associated with the alleged leader of the insurgency in Iraq and to have recruited foreign fighters. Several cases in the US courts failed to acheive his release, and in 2010 he was charged as a Palestinian national under a different name without any notice of legal representation and sentenced to 15 years, later reduced to 7 years on appeal. His detention for 6 years before the trial was not taken into consideration. The US handed him over to the Iraqi authorities before the withdrew from Iraq in 2011.

He continues to be abused and tortured in jail in Iraq, and has been on hunger strikes in protest, losing more than 60 lbs.
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Reclaim Love Valentine Party

Piccadilly Circus, London. Sat 15 Feb 2014

People join hands in a circle to recite together a plea for love and peace across the universe
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The 12th Reclaim Love Valentine Party took place at Piccadilly Circus as others decided to continue the event organised for 10 years by Venus CuMara, who fortunately managed to attend and lend the event her unique vision and call for world peace.

The event was begun in 2003 by Venus and last year was the tenth she had organised (one year when she was away it was put on by some of her friends) and it seemed unlikely there would be a party this year. But a group of those who had taken part in previous years decided at the last minute they could not let the idea drop, and organised another event today.

Venus, who had spent some time away from London, was told what was happening, and to all of our delight came back to take part, playing her usual role in organising the circle which plays a central role in the event.

The idea behind the free party on the street was to celebrate love between people as the most important force in the world, and to do so in a way that counteracted the tremendous commercialisation of love in the annual media shopping promotion frenzy that now surrounds St Valentine's Day. It was to be a free event, people making and having fun, sharing love, taking place in a public area in the centre of London's West End shops and under the vast neon advertisements of Picadilly Circus.

Venus also aimed to send a message of peace and love out across the world - and the London event spawned similar parties at the same time elsewhere across the world - by uniting us all in circles of love at the same time around the world. At 3.30pm everyone here - and at other Reclaim Love parties around the world - joined hands to chant many times 'May All The Beings In All The Worlds Be Happy & At Peace'.

It was an event that took place freely, with all welcome to take part and no permissions requested from the authorities - people came together and partied, with Venus getting people to provide t-shirts and play music and others bringing food to share and contributing to the general party atmosphere.

There are really very few such spontaneous events in London like this, and this is unique in central London. I've photographed most of these events and I hope that they will continue with others taking over the running in future years.
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Anons 6th Anniversary at Scientology

Tottenham Court Rd, London. Sat 15 Feb 2014

There were only four protesters when I called briefly at the protest
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Few came to the 6th anniversary of the Anonymous protest against Scientology against the threat to freedom of speech on the internet from personal attacks on critics under Scientology's so-called 'fair game' policy.

The protest in 2008, outside the Church of Scientology's English HQ in Queen Victoria Street and later at their recruiting centre on the Tottenham Court Rd, attracted several hundred protesters, most of them wearing the now-familiar 'V for Vendetta' Guy Fawkes masks as protection against the savage recriminations made against some critics of the cult. It was the first UK protest to be organised solely over the web and the first time we had seen these masks in use at protests.

Today when I arrived there were only four masked protesters, one handing out leaflets on the street outside the shop and the others in a large pen provided by police across the road.

It hadn't been a well-organised or well-publiscised event, and I was told that a number of Anons had called to apologise that they were unable to attend because of the weather, transport difficulties and other excuses.

But perhaps the real reason is that Scientology seems to be more or less moribund, with figures for recruits well down on those a few years ago, and it hardly seems to be worth bothering to protest aginst.
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Hungry for Justice For Fast Food Workers

Oxford St, London. Sat 15 Feb 2014

John McDonnell MP speaking outside McDonald's in Oxford St
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As a part of a national day of action to launch the Fast Food Rights Campaign which aims bring about the end of zero hours contracts and abysmal pay for workers in fast food outlets, John McDonnell MP and Ian Hodson of BFAWU led a ‘Hungry for Justice’ protest to Burger King, McDonald's and Costa around Oxford St.

The formation of the campaign followed on from strikes in around a 100 cities in the US by food workers at the end of 2013, which demonstrated the potential for unionising what had often been said to be an impossible industry. In the US, more than half workers on the fast food industry rely on benefits to top up their income; despite this, over two thirds of them are the main breadwinners in their households.

In the UK, the Bakers Food Allied Workers Union (BFAWU) has led the fight against zero hours contracts, winning an important fight at Hovis in Wigan. The Fast Food Rights Campaign is supported by the BFAWU, Unite the Resistance, Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC), Youth Fight for Jobs, the National Shop Stewards Network (NSSN) and other campaigning organisations.

The fast food industry is grouwing fast and making high profits - sales of fast food chains in 2012 were £6.9 billion, and companies such as McDonald's don't need to boost their huge profits by using zero hours contracts for 90% of workers. In January 2014 PayScale reproted that the average fast food worker in the UK earns just £5 an hour.

The Fast Food Rights Campaign aims to recruit workers in fast food outlets, particularly the large multinational chains, into unions such as the BFAWU in order to press for a living wage, proper contracts and decent conditions.

Ian Hodson, national president of BFAWU stated: "This campaign is about bringing to an end the heinous zero hours contracts in operation across the industry. It is about people receiving pay that they can live on; it is about fighting for a pay rise for workers. We are talking about hugely profitable companies here—they can afford to pay their workers a decent wage."

Labour MP John McDonnell who also took part in the protest said before it: “Work in fast food restaurants for many people means low pay, insecure employment and poor employment conditions. We are launching this campaign to recruit fast food workers into a trade union so that we can secure decent pay and conditions. We call upon trade unionists to join us in our day of action.”

I joined the protesters outside Burger King on the Tottenham Court Rd, close to Oxford street where a short protest was held. At each of the outlets visited, some of the protesters walked into the shops and handed out leaflets to workers and customers about their rights and inviting them to consider joining BFAWU. There were then speeches from Ian Hodson, John McDonnell and others from some of the supporting organisations before the protest moved on to the next outlet.

The protest visited two branches of McDonald's in Oxford St, where security guards stopped most of the protesters entering. At the first one man was allowed in to hand out leaflets, but at the second everyone was denied entry. At two branches of Costa Coffee things were more relaxed, but after a short while the protesters handing out leaflets or holding placards - who were all well behaved - were asked to leave the shops, and after a brief discussion, did so.
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'Justice Demands the Truth' Vigil

MI6, Vauxhall, London. Fri 14 Feb 2014
Protesters with posters and Valentine card for MI6
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On the 12th anniversary of Shaker Aamer's illegal rendition to Guantanamo, a protest called on MI6 to tell the truth and stop working to stop him being returned to his family in London, and handed in a Valentine card to MI6 head Sir John Sawer.

St Valentine's day, twelve years ago was an important one for one London family. It was the day when Shaker Aamer was illegally and forcibly transferred from Bagram Airbase, where he had been tortured as MI6 agents looked on and helped with his interrogation to Guantanamo, where his imprisonment without trial and with frequent and regular ill-treatment and torture continues to this day. Still kept in chains and in solitary confinement, his health is in danger after an extended hunger strike. But it was also the day when his youngest son was born in London, a son living with his family in Battersea who has never seen his father.

Aamer went to Afghanistan in 2001, working for a chairty to establish schools and and projects to help poor communities. He was kidnapped by bandits simply because he was a foreigner and the US authorities there were offering bounties for captured foreigners after 9/11. He has never been charged with any office, never tried, and over six years ago six US security agencies including the CIA, State and Defense Departments cleared him to be released.

He remains there apparently because of various lies told by British security agencies MI5 and MI6 to our government, which Jack Straw, Foreign Secretary from 2001-6 and later Secretary of State for Justice apparently believed. Although the UK government has recognised Aamers right to return to the UK as a long-term British Resident, the message appears to have been communicated to the US authorities that he should continue to be held there. The only reason appears to be that MI5 and MI6 are continuing to brief secretly against his return, because of the embarassing evidence he would give against their agents about their complicity in his torture. Aamer's evidence about his treatment would also embarass the US authorities because of their use of torture.

The US and UK intelligence services want Aamer either to die in Guantanamo, or to be sent back to his native Saudi Arabia, from where he fled over 30 years ago, eventually being allowed to settle in the UK. If returned there he would almost certainly be locked up and never heard from again.

The vigil, organised by the Save Shaker Aamer campaign, called for MI6 to stop its lies about Aamer, and for his immediate return to the UK. After a vigil on the road opposite the MI6 building in the rain they went into a railway arch for a rally with a number of speeches, including those from leading members of the campaign, a representative from Sussex Amnesty group and others including historian, investigative journalist, and Guantanamo expert Andy Worthington and Val Brown who spoke about the former Guantanamo prisoner Omar Khadr, a Canadian citizen arrested at the age of 15 and convicted of war crimes committed as a minor under a secret plea bargain. Now 27, Khadr is still held in jail in Canada and the London Guantanamo campaign is appealing for help in supporting his appeal and organising a UK tour by Dennis Edney QC who is his lawyer. Messages of support were read out from a number of people unable to attend, including Bruce Kent, Green MP Caroline Lucas and Lindsey German. The campaign has received considerable support over the years from a wide range of people.

A couple of police officers came to check up on the protest and ask what was happening but left after a few minutes. After the speeches, the protesters filed across the road in the pouring rain to the gate into MI6 and presented a Valentine card for the head of MI6, Sir John Sawer, which stated:

"MI6, we would love you to … help us bring Shaker Aamer home. Shaker Aamer, unlawfully imprisoned and tortured in Guantanamo for twelve years – he faces no charge or trial- he has been cleared since 2007 to leave Guantanamo. So why is Shaker Aamer still there? Shaker Aamer would love to be at home with his wife and family in the UK. M16, you could help. Tell the truth about torture! MI6 have a heart, don’t block Shaker Aamer’s release to the UK from Guantanamo."

Security on the gate refused to accept the card, but the protesters insisted, standing outside and chanting for them to take the card. It was eventually pushed through the gap in the gate before everyone left for a final protest opposite the MI6 building.

The protest also called for a public inquiry into the allegations of complicity of torture against the UK security services which have been made by every one of the British Nationals and Residents already released from Guantanamo. Three years ago the government promised there would be an inquiry, but as yet nothing has happened.
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Charlie Chaplin Climate Chaos

Downing St, London. Fri 14 Feb 2013

Charlie X holds the head of David Cameron at the gates to Downing St

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A Charlie Chaplin mime protested outside Downing St to draw attention to the climate chaos and in solidarity with those who are flooded out and with those fighting fracking around the UK. His message was 'Frack This for a Larf!

It was a cold and wet day, with the latest in a series of storms hitting London, and few people were out on Whitehall, but there in front of the gates of Downing St, watched by a few armed police, was a familiar figure with his whited out face, small moustache, bowler hat, black bow tie and jacket, but with his black trousers swapped for bright yellow waterproof ones. And along with his walking stick he had sensibly brought along an umbrella, as well as some hazard tape to keep his bowler in place in the high winds.

It was, as the mime artist had indicated to me earlier, "crap weather" and the perfect context for a protest drawing attention to a protest over climate chaos and in solidarity with those people being flooded out across the country - including many close to my home which has been under severe flood threat for almost a week, with water across the street.

Mr Chaplin also wanted to draw attention to the dangers of fracking in the UK and show his solidarity with those communities who are fighting fracking throughout the UK, and had a message for Mr Cameron, whose mask he produced and held up like a trophy head. 'Frack This For a Lark' was I think part of what he mimed, along with the injuction to the Prime Minister to really take climate change seriously and back renewable energy, stop fracking and the use of fossil fuels and to act seriously now to try to alleviate the increasing catastrophes. Cameron needs to act green, not to talk green and continue to listen to the highly funded lobbying by the dirty fuel companies. At least I think that is what he meant, though I may have been reading too much into his lips.
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One Billion Rising - End Violence Against Women

Trafalgar Square, London. Fri 14 Feb 2014
It was a wet Valentines Day day for the event in Trafalgar Square
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People came to strike, dance and rise in defiance against the injustices suffered by women at the second worldwide One Billion Rising event, begun as a call to action against the UN figure that 1 in 3 women in the world will be beaten or raped.

Last year was the first 'One Billion Rising' event, with over 10,000 events, and this year there were various events taking place in 168 countries. The campaign was initiated by playwright and activist Eve Ensler (known for her play The Vagina Monologues), and her organisation V-Day.

In England and Wales, the Home Office reports that there are an average of 85,000 women raped each year, and 400,000 women sexually assaulted. They report that 1 in 5 women (aged 16 – 59) has experienced some form of sexual violence since the age of 16.

The event started with a brief photo-op which was just lots of people posing behind a banner. I almost missed it, but I wouldn't have really missed much. I didn't recognise many of them, though they may well have been celebreties. One I did know was Bianca Jagger, who I've photographed on various occasions. But you many well spot others you know.

Then there was some dancing on the stage, and I took a few pictures. But much more interesting were the people who had come to the event, some of whom you can see in my pictures. There was going to be speeches etc. later, but I had other things to photograph and couldn't stay.
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Central Staines Flooding

Staines, Middx. Tue 11 Feb 2014

There was flooding in the centre of Staines, but most was fairly shallow
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Staines is one of the places along the Thames making the news over flooding, but while we do have some floods, most of the 'Staines flooding' is not in Staines itself but on the other side of the river, close to the river and in Egham Hythe.

There are some low-lying areas actually in Staines where people's homes are flooded, some only a few hundred yards from where I live, but in my own street the flooding is limited to basement areas, though the water filling a third of the street on the other side to my house is actually at a higher level than our ground floor, which is a little worrying.

When I took these pictures, the relatively slow flow over the camber of the road is going down a drain and being carried away by the ditch which flows around the bottom end of our garden. It generally only carries water that is pumped by the council out of the Thames as well as a storm water from our road, but was now running perhaps a foot higher than normal and flooding downstream. Some of the worst flooding actually in Staines is from water that has mainly come back up this ditch from the Thames, but we are a few feet higher. Middlesex is very flat and inches count.

We also had a small pond - 2 or 3 metres wide - across our garden path and strawberry bed, from rising ground water, and a smaller but very unpleasant one in our sewage inspection pit, fortunately just a couple of inches below the cover.

The River Thames at the Environment Agency's Staines station reached its highest ever since it was set up in 1990 while I was out taking these pictures, approximately 3 inches higher than in the 2003 floods. Since then it has fortunately been going down slowly. There were some sandbags by the Thames on Laleham Rd, but I don't think they served any real purpose, as the water was flooding onto the road just a few yards upstream from them.

The Thames is only one of the rivers in Staines (or to give it its full name, 'Staines-under-Thames'. The only flood marker I know is next to a bridge over the Colne, and that showed the Colne to be 2'6" lower than in 1947. But it is only on a board fixed to the side of a building, and I wonder if it has been moved up the wall at bit.

The Colne is pretty high - up to the top of the bridge arch next to that board, and at least one house beside it was being pumped out as I walked past. But I think the Colne was a little higher in 2003.
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River Ash Floods

Priory Green, Staines, Middx. Mon 10 Feb 2014

Priory Green, Staines under Thames, with flooding from the River Ash

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I was rather surprised to see the River Ash flooding at Priory Green in Staines-under-Thames. The Ash is a 'distributary' of the Colne, controlled by the Environment Agency at a sluice gate where it leaves the main stream of the Colne immediately south of the Staines Bypass. The Colne goes south to meet the Thames in the middle of Staines, while the much smaller Ash flows on a more easterly course, going under the Crooked Billet roundabout and then across a number of back streets in Staines and Ashford to pass to the south of the Queen Mary reservoir and then on through Shepperton to the Thames. Although it goes through the studio grounds there, unfortunately the old stories that it was the river on which 'The African Queen' was filmed are apparently completely untrue, though parts of other films may have been shot on its banks.

One of the roads the Ash passes under is Priory Green, opposite the Spelthorne Borough Council offices on the other side of Kingston Road. The bridge across the Ash is dead flat with a fairly limited clearance above the water at the best of times. So when too much water comes down the Ash, there just isn't room for it and the area around floods.

This causes some incovenience to those living in Sykes Drive, Chestnut Manor Close and Manor Place, who unless they drive or wear wellies will certainly be getting wet feet on the way home, and they certainly have my sympathy if their homes are flooded, but assuming they were sensibly built above the flood level (and most are relatively recent so should have been), then a considerable amount of water could spill out across to the west of Priory Green on that section of Shortwood Common with little adverse effect. Perhaps that was the plan of the Environment Agency in allowing the unusually high flow, or perhaps it was just incompetence. The Colne is fairly high, but doesn't seem generally to be at a dangerous level. But for those of us under threat of flooding, every millimetre helps; the level here this evening is already 3cm above that reached in the 2003 floods and rising.

Back in front of my house, one of Staines's other waterways, Sweeps Ditch is still taking the water away from our side of the road as it comes across from the overflowing drains in the street around the corner. This is probably bad news for those living further downstream around Wheatsheaf Park and Penton Hook Farm, although their local flooding probably comes mainly from the Thames. At the moment we are still keeping not just our heads but our feet above water, but it does get rather depressing, particularly as our sewer is now blocked - there is just nowhere for it to flow away. The emergency people came and looked at it yesterday and decided there was nothing that could be done until the waters go down.
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Flooding Hits Staines Again

Staines, Middlesex. Sun 9 Feb 2014

The towpath at the end of Wheatsheaf Lane is underwater
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As I watched the water coming up onto the road opposite my house I decided I might as well go out and take some pictures of the local flooding. It's hard to get down to work on anything serious when you've had a severe flooding warning that you may be evacuated, though we are still hoping it doesn't come to that.

I live five minutes walk from the river and usually it is a pleasant riverside walk or ride along the towpath from here to Laleham, and then the riverside road goes on to Chertsey Bridge. But my usual path to the river ended in a flooded towpath, and I had to ride to the next road down to the river. There was a short stretch of the towpath still dry, but then it was water, looking too deep to safely cycle through. In the end I went down quite a few different roads to look at the water, but only managed to cycle along one short stretch.

I'd known from the web that the road at Laleham was closed because of the flooding, and wasn't surprised to find I couldn't go any further. It was in any case time to go back and see how my own street was getting on - and the water had perhaps come up an inch or two in the hour or so I was out. At the moment our drains are coping with it, though I'm not sure how long that will last. Our local ditch - still almost empty - will hopefully take some of it away too, but if the Thames keeps rising we will be in trouble.
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Bellyhangers to keep Abortion Legal

Spanish Embassy, Belgrave Sq, London. Sat 8 Feb 2014

One woman had a 'coathangers prohibited' sign
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Spanish women, along with their British supporters gathered with a banner 'My Belly is Mine' and with decorated coathangers to tell the Spanish government to abandon plans to deny the right of women to access safe and legal abortion.

Before the current abortion law - similar to ours in the UK in requiring the approval of two doctors - was brought in around 30 years ago in Spain, thousands of woman their died each year through illegal abortions, sometimes carried out by back-street abortionists using the stout wire from coathangers. For many women among the poor such dangerous 'operations' were their only choice, while the wealthier came in large numbers - up to 18,000 a year to private clinics in London. Some of these clinics too were unsafe, and women suffered or died as a result.

Today's event outside the Spanish Embassy took place at the same time as the Madrid Feminist Movement was holding a protest in the Spanish capital against the highly restrictive proposals being put through by Spain's ruling party, the Partido Popular. It was organised by 'My Belly is Mine', a campaign group set up by British feminists to support Spanish women in their fight against the proposed reform to Spain’s current abortion law. As well as a number of Spanish women, the protest was also supported by Irish and Scottish pro-choice groups as well as Abortion Rights and the London Feminist Network.

The clothes hanger - or 'bellyhanger' has became a symbol of the movement to protect Spanish women’s right to safe and legal abortion, and many brought along hangers to the protest decorated with messages. There were a number of speeches, by Spanish and British women, and we were reminded that abortion is still illegal in Ireland and Irish women are still having to travel to the UK for abortions.

The hangers were then collected in a box, which a couple of the organisers took to deliver at the Spanish Embassy. They talked on the entry phone and were told that no one would collect them but they could leave them on the doorstep. They took a few to hang on the railings around the embassy building in Belgrave Square around the corner and left the rest.

Ten minutes later, two of the police who had been keeping a watch on the protest walked up with the box containing the hangers. Embassy staff had apparently decided they would not accept the hangers and the messages from the protesters, and the police had been asked to remove and return them to the protesters. When I left a few minutes later they were still in the custody of the police, as none of the protesters seemed to want to claim them.
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Students protest Loans sell-off

SOAS to Westminster, London. Fri 7 Feb 2014

The march against the sell-off of student loans on its way to the Dept of Business, Innovation & Skills
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The Student Assembly Against Austerity marched through London with red boxes of student debts to 'debt-in' under them outside the government department planning to sell them to the private sector and scrap the current cap on their interest rates.

The government has confirmed that it intends to sell off the student loans this year. Selling off the student loans would almost certainly require the government to ease the current restrictions on the interest rates that are charged on the loans, set each year by the The interest rate is set by the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills (BIS) and currently capped by a formula to the retail price index (RPI) and the highest base rate of a group of banks. For loans begun before September 2012 it is currently 1% above that base rate at 1.5%. A secret report prepared by Rothschilds for the government has recommended increasing or scrapping this cap retrospectively. Loans since September 2012 which will start to be repayed from 2016 will pay a higher rate of interest, dependent on income, from the RPI up to 3% above this.

Also under threat if the loans are made private are the income thresholds above which debts must be repayed. Currently former students many earn up to £16,365 per year before having to make any repayments. The then pay 9% of any earnings above that threshold. That threshold is due to rise to £16,910 in April, and a higher threshold of £21,000 pa has been set for the newer loans.

A group of protesters gathered outside SOAS (The School of Oriental and African Studies) in Holborn from around noon and then marched with banners and red boxes of 'Student Debt' down past the British Museum and Trafalgar Square. There was some loud shouting on Whitehall as they passed Downing St, and they then passed the Houses of Parliament, turning down Victoria St to the offices of the BIS.

Here they were joined by a few more protesters to make their numbers up to around a hundred by the end of the protest. They blocked the vehicle entrance to the offices with banners and piled up the red boxes in front of them and held a rally. After a number of speeches, volunteers came and lay on banners on the pavement and were then 'buried' under the boxes of student debt. Many of the students present then told us all how much their debt would be, with figures varying from £24,000 to £37,000.

There were more speeches, including one from a Green Party representative and from Lindsey German of the People’s Assembly Against Austerity whose student wing had organised this event as a part of a 'National Week of Action' against student debt, with events on 43 campuses. In a statement, Student Assembly Against Austerity organiser Mya Pope-Weidemann, said:

"The sell off of the student loanbook will add a crippling financial burden to millions of graduates already struggling to find secure employment and make ends meet. This exploding rate of debt will discourage poorer young people from applying to university in the future and is a direct attack on public education by this government's austerity agenda - which the student wing of the People's Assembly is fighting."

The protest was joined by members of London Young Greens and the Federation of Young European Greens.
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Uphold LGBT Rights at Sochi

Whitehall, London. Wed 5 Feb 2014

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Hundreds attended a London protest against Russian homophobia calling on Olympic sponsors to speak out against anti-gay laws and homophobic violence, and a banner was delivered to McDonalds telling them there were 131,447 signatures on the petition.

The protest, called by All Out and the Peter Tatchell Foundation as a part of All Out's Global Speak Out against the silence of Olympic sponsors, including McDonalds, Visa and Coca Cola, took place opposite Downing St, where a crowd of several hundreds listened to speakers including Peter Tatchell and Marie Campbell, Director of Global Campaigns for All Out, as well as Labour MP for Rhondda Chris Bryant and entertainer Paul O'Grady, before a small deputation took a banner carrying the number of signatures obtained on a petition - 131,447 - asking McDonalds and the other Olympic sponsors to speak out against Russia's anti-gay law and homophobic violence.

They were met outside the McDonald's branch in Whitehall by the UK Head of Communications for McDonalds who took their banner.

The campaign was also urging the British and Russian governments, and the International Olympic Committee, to uphold Principle 6 of the Olympic Charter, which prohibits discrimination. In a statement Peter Tatchell said:

"We want government leaders from around the world to boycott the opening and closing ceremonies at Sochi. Empty VIP seats would be an effective gesture to show President Putin that his crackdown on the gay community is an unacceptable abuse of human rights.

"None of the Olympic corporate sponsors have explicitly condemned the Russian anti-gay law or homophobic violence in Russia. They’ve made only general, vague equality statements. This isn’t adequate. Instead of standing up for human rights, they seem more interested in maintaining their Russian profits and kow-towing to the Kremlin.

"I would have expected them to make a simple statement such as: 'We are deeply concerned about new Russian legislation that discriminates against the LGBT community. We deplore the homophobic violence that is taking place in Russia.' It is shameful and cowardly that they feel unable to say this.

"The intensely homophobic atmosphere in Russia, much of it orchestrated by President Putin’s government, means it would be very unlikely for an openly gay athlete to be selected for the Russian Olympic squad. The Kremlin has banned a Pride House - a social meeting space for gay athletes and spectators, like the one at the London 2012 Olympics.

"These are clear breaches of the anti-discrimination Principle 6 of the Olympic Charter. Yet the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has said and done nothing. It is allowing the Russian government to ban a Pride House and has not required the Russians to give a written undertaking that they will not discriminate against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) athletes in the selection of Russia’s team for the Winter Olympics.

"The IOC has hinted that any athlete who expresses support for LGBT equality during the events or ceremonies could face disciplinary action, possibly including disqualification, expulsion and being stripped of any medals won.

He went on to suggest that the IOC was driven by commercial interests and was not prioritising Olympic values and human rights.

Many of those at the protest wore 'red for love' as a gesture of support for the campaign, and many of the posters were also in bold red type or white on red, and some carried a large number 6 for the Olympic non-discrimination principle they were urging the IOC to uphold. There was a man in drag with a huge red wig, and other with a Russian military cap and deep pink feathery wings, while Johnny Woo who was organising an club event for the campaign appeared and spoke about this in a costume hard to describe, holding up a poster 'Queer Freedom Knows No Borders.'
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Willesden Wassail

Willesden Green, London. Sun 2 Feb 2014
The shopkeeper at Khan Halal Butchers listens to the wassail song
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An Urban Wassail in Willesden High Street celebrated local shopkeepers who give Willesden Green its character and help to create a vibrant community, singing them a traditional wassail song and singers and poets performed on the street.

Willesden Green still has a real High Street with many individual small local businesses rather than the indentikit stores and franchises that have covered most of our town centres, and the wassail, adapted from the traditional agricultural blessing of trees in orchards to celebrate and encourage their fruitfulness, is intended to keep the High Street blooming as a neighbourhood community. It was the fifth year that this event has taken place.

As well as celebrating the shopkeepers, this "small free festival run by and for people from Willesden Green" as also a celebration of the work of all who live there and create the neighbourhood and brought together artists and volunteers from the area, including James Mcdonald, Berakah Multi Faith Choir, Poetcurious, Errol Mcglashan and several others, with more performing later after the wassail.

The group gathered outside Willesden Green station (unfortunately it was closed) and began with a performance from ParkLife singers, a local community choir run as a not-for-profit co-operatvie and led by Charlotte Eaton. The founder of Willesden Green Wassail, Rachel Rose Reid, then introduced us to our first shopkeeper from Daisychain Florist at the station, who was made to stand on some low steps and give us a few words about her shop, which the 70 or so people present repeated as am Occupy-style "mike check", after which we all sang the song from the Carhampton Wassail (replacing it's 'Old Apple Tree' with the shop name.)

This was a pattern repeated at a number of shops along the High St, including Hamada supermarket, Khan Halal Butchers, Pound.com, Corner Barber Shop, Red Pig, Fornetti, Mezzoroma and Buy Wise with some other stops for poetry and songs, including on the yard in front of Sainsbury's, one of the relatively few national chains present. There we also heard from Sujata Aurora the latest news about the local campaign to save the Queensbury Pub. A petition with over 4,000 signatures was presented to Brent Council last month against the demolition of this 'Asset of Community Value' and its replacement by a 10 storey block of flats.

The Wassail ended with a number of poetry performances opposite the Willesden Green Library building site, and then we walked across to the hoardings around the site which now include a picture about the Wassail and Rachel Rose Reid's poems on Willesden Green which she read. We then moved to the neighbouring cherry tree for a final wassail after which everyone let off the party poppers and decorated the tree with ribbons. In the traditional ceremony people made a lot of noise banging pans and firing guns in order to wake up the trees and get them going on producing large yields of apples.

Afterwards, people walked back to the Bar Gallery in Queens Parade on the corner of Walm Lane, where refreshments were available and there were to be more performances. I went with them, keen to continue, but then realised that it was rather later than I expected and had to leave.

The Carhampton Wassail is a relatively recent tradition, begun by the Taunton Cider Company in the 1930s, though undoubtedly its roots are far earlier, possibly in Anglo-Saxon times. The second half of it goes:

Let every man take off his hat,
And shout to the old apple tree!
Old apple tree, we wassail thee,
And hoping thou wilt bear
Hatfuls, capfuls and three bushel bagfuls
And a little heap under the stairs,

which perhaps wasn't literally suited to some of the businesses we wassailed, but made a merry metaphor.

Wassailing was usually carried out on Twelth Night, moving to January 17th with the '11 lost days' in the change to the Gregorian calendar in England in 1752, so the Willesden Green celebration came a couple of weeks late.
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Harlesden, Willesden & Mary Seacole

Harlesden, London. Sun 2 Feb 2014

A footpath from the station runs through the industrial area to the south-east
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These pictures were made on a circular walk in the area to the south of Willesden Junction station in Harlesden in the industrial area around Hythe Road and along the Paddington Branch of the Grand Union canal.

Some of the best views of the area are from London Overground from the lines from Willesden Junction to Richmond and to Clapham Junction. One place of interest is the memorial garden to Mary Seacole (1805-81) who nursed many British soldiers in the Crimean War as well as working in her native Jamaica and Panama and Cuba, funding her medical work from the proceeds of her general store and boarding house in Jamaica. The garden, on the canal bank next to Mitre bridge, on Scrubs Lane, not far from where she was buried in St Mary's Catholic cemetery, Kensal Green, was begun in 2003, shortly before the 2005 bi-centenary celebration of her birth.
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EDL Saved by Police in Slough

Sat 1 Feb 2014

Berkshire Anti-Fascists were among those trying to stop the EDL marching
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Perhaps two hundred EDL supporters from around the country marched to a rally in the centre of Slough in a protest sparked by plans for a new mosque and Islamic community centre but clearly more generally anti-Muslim.

They were only able to march to their rally point after police had cleared the route by charges using police horses and riot police with raised batons, as the protest was opposed by a similar number of black block anti-fascists, as well as a protest by the the UAF and trade unionists as well as a group of local largely Asian youths. Without police protection the EDL would have been forced to run for their lives, and their chants of 'Whose Streets? Our Streets!' seemed farcical.

The EDL supporters began to gather a couple of hours before the march close to Slough station and were watched by a small crowd of journalists and a similar number of police, including several mounted officers.

Gradually a small crowd of anti-fascist formed near them and police soon moved them away to the other side of a dual carriageway facing the EDL. Among the EDL were some who had come from Wales with a Welsh flag, a small group with their LGBT EDL flags and a handful of people with Israeli flags. There were also some rather curious masks, including one man who seemed to be wearing his underpants on his head, all of which attracted the attentions of the photographers.

The EDL seemed determined to show they could behave rather better than on many previous occasions, and had banned drinking on the protest. There were plenty of EDL stewards on hand having an occasional word with anyone who seemed to be getting out of hand. A man who started to shout out their well-known chant "Allah is a pedo" was greeted by shouts to stop and quickly grabbed, though later things seemed to get a little out of hand with a large group if not the entire protest joining in with chanting "Allah, Allah, who the f**k is Allah."

Several people talked we me about their opposition to the increasing Islamic presence in this country without seeming to do more than reflect the prejudice and distortions found in our right-wing gutter press. Many were pleased to have their photographs taken, including one man wearing a pig's head, though there was a small section of the crowd who objected to my presence, recognising me from photographs and an accusation of biased reporting made on a right wing web site - a case of mistaken identity for which I later received an apology.

The EDL object to Dawat-e-Islami being given planning approval last May to convert Langley Village Club into a mosque and Islamic community centre. This had been opposed by some local residents, particularly on the ground that there were only 35 parking places for a centre catering for 300 people, and a petition against the site was signed by over 600 people. Although Slough had initially turned down the application because of the insufficient parking provision, and the planning committee was unconvinced by the claim that 90% of those using the centre would arrive on foot, the council eventually decided to approve it.

The EDL call for the protest was however not just about parking. It talks about "the disturbing proliferation of poorly regulated mosques" and links the protest with its actions to highlight the activities of "vile grooming gangs"; it alleges that residents living around other mosques have been "driven to anger, tears and despair" because of the mosques, and suggests that the centre will "antagonise, perhaps even terrorise, local residents."

The EDL also say that Dawat-e-Islami, the charity that wants to develop the centre in 2011, "overtly supported the assassination of Pakistani politician Salmaan Taseer by Mumtaz Qadri, a member of the organisation who disagreed with Taseer’s opposition to Pakistan’s blasphemy law."

They also oppose the approval of the setting up of a Muslim faith-based school for girls in Slough under the Free Schools programme, The Slough Girls’ Leadership Academy, which will be run by the Tauheedul Free Schools Trust (TFST). Many who do not agree with other policies of the EDL may also be opposed to faith-based schools and also to the whole divisive approach of 'Free Schools'. As the NUT states "We believe it is wrong that state funding should be given to small groups of individuals to run schools that are unaccountable to their local communities." Many of those who took part in today's counter-protest against the EDL would be opposed to the setting up of this school, but not because of its Islamic nature.

Two hours before the march was due to start there was already a strong police presence in Slough's pedestrianised High St where the EDL were to march to hold their rally, and a small group including 'Sikhs against the EDL' where the UAF and the local Trades Council had called for the counter-demonstration. A second counter-demonstration by Berkshire Antifascists and London Antifascists had a meeting point set for a local park, but some were already wandering around the town centre.

The EDL march set off in a fairly organised fashion, with stewards working hard to keep people in line and police preventing the counter-protesters approaching. It was held on the corner of the High St while police turned their attention to the large group of counter protesters now on the route. They were pushed back and there were several police charges and police horses - some clearly not under proper control by their riders - were used to clear the street.

Photographers were roughly pushed out of the way by police, and members of the public not involved in the counter-protest were stopped behind police lines in front of shops and side streets. A few red flares were thrown and there was a lot of pushing by both police and protesters and fairly rough handling of protesters, but eventually the street was cleared and lined with police, and the EDL were able to walk through to the Town Square for their rally.

A couple of police officers were reported to have been injured and four protesters arrested. There were a number of minor injuries caused by police and protesters, and I was hit by a barrier thrown over by EDL supporters as well as a plastic bottle thrown by an Asian youth, as well as getting a few bruises from the pushing, mainly by police.

At the start of the EDL rally there was a short remembrance for Alan Pearce, described as a 'true patriot' and apparently a supporter of the UKIP and BNP as well as EDL. The National Anthem was played, with those present being asked to raise their arms and give a Churchillian gesture so as not to allow photographers to represent the raised arms as a Nazi salute. There certainly have been people giving such salutes at some previous EDL events (and photographers have had little need to misrepresent), but I saw none in Slough.

I didn't hear a great deal of the speeches as there was a noisy counter-protest at the start just a few yards away, and some of the EDL threw over the barriers around their rally and tried to rush towards this. I was hit on the ankle by one of the flying barriers and failed to get a picture as police rushed to contain them; I hobbled away to photograph the charges that followed against the counter-protesters by riot police and police horses.

When I returned I took a few pictures of Albert Burgess, the former chairman of UKIP in Henley who was expelled from UKIP for consorting with BNP leader Nick Griffin and addressing several BNP branch meetings. He believes he has proof the Heath Government committed treason in the beginning of the 1970’s "and as a direct result of the treason committed we are now locked into an illegal treaty with the EU (then the EEC)."

But police were now starting to move another group of counter-protesters on the other side of the EDL away down the street in a series of five metre charges backed up by mounted police. I watched them doing this for a while and then when they stopped for a rest decided I'd seen enough of Slough and went for the bus home.
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All pictures on this section of the site are Copyright © Peter Marshall 2014; to buy prints or for permission to reproduce pictures or to comment on this site, or for any other questions, contact me.

my london diary index

Feb 2014

G4S & Israeli Prison Torture
Students tell Vice Chancellor to Resign
Ukrainians Protest, Celebrate and Mourn
Syrian Peace Protest at Russian Embassy
Focus E15 Mums at City Hall
Atos National Day of Action
NUJ demands Egypt release jailed journalists
Free Margaretta D’Arcy picket
Solidarity vigil for Shawki Ahmed Omar
Reclaim Love Valentine Party
Anons 6th Anniversary at Scientology
Hungry for Justice For Fast Food Workers
'Justice Demands the Truth' Vigil
Charlie Chaplin Climate Chaos
One Billion Rising - End Violence Against Women
Central Staines Flooding
River Ash Floods
Flooding Hits Staines Again
Bellyhangers to keep Abortion Legal
Students protest Loans sell-off
Uphold LGBT Rights at Sochi
Willesden Wassail
Harlesden, Willesden & Mary Seacole
EDL Saved by Police in Slough


Stock photography by Peter+Marshall at Alamy

Other sites with my pictures include
london pictures
londons industrial history
>Re:PHOTO My thoughts on photography

All pictures Copyright © Peter Marshall 2014, all rights reserved.
High res images available for reproduction - for licences to reproduce images or buy prints or other questions and comments, contact me. Selected images are also available from Alamy and Photofusion

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