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Last Updated: Tuesday, 13 September 2005, 20:22 GMT 21:22 UK
'It may be legal, but it's immoral'
By Anna Browning
BBC News

Demonstrators
Campaigners hope to stop another arms fair in two years' time

As soon as you leave the Docklands Light Railway for the Excel exhibition centre it is clear something is up. There are police everywhere - hundreds of them.

For four days a place more often used to hosting the likes of Place in the Sun Live! and antiques trade shows is staging one of the world's largest arms fairs - Defence Systems and Equipment International.

And that, said Anna Jones of the Campaign Against Arms Trade, makes it no normal trade fair.

Demonstrator
Hundreds march from though east London to the Excel centre

Fancy a M4 Carbine? A M16A2 equipped with M203 grenade launcher? Depleted uranium? They are all for sale and they are a magnet for the peace protesters intent on preventing a 2007 return for the bi-annual event in east London.

Speaking after its last London trade fair, Defence Systems and Equipment International spokesman Paul Beaver said: "It is like any other trade exhibition, it is like the motor show in Birmingham or exhibitions at Earl's Court, this happens to be for the defence industry."

Campaigners have planned a week of protests, including a rally on Tuesday, which saw several hundred march through the streets of East Ham to the Excel centre itself - or as close as the police would allow.

"This is the global arms trade come to our community," said Anna Jones, the rally's co-ordinator. "But we are not going to let the global arms trade do its business in our communities or anybody else's around the world.

"We want to show the UK government the level of opposition against the arms fair.

William and Mary Barnes
I just think this fair is so disgraceful, that the government should be encouraging it
Mary Barnes
"We have walked through the streets of East Ham and we have had a lot of support from local people on the way."

Green Party member of the London Assembly Jenny Jones visited the arms fair last time it was in town.

"The most interesting, but the most shocking, about the visit to me was the fact that it looked like any kind of trade fair," she said.

And it was this trade, rather than the weapons themselves, she took more issue with.

"Arms go on to be traded again and again. These arms aren't only sold to the people who come to this building, they fall into the wrong hands," she said.

"We sold them to Saddam Hussain, and then they were used against us.

"[The trade] creates the desire for newer and better things and things that kill better and faster and more, and I think that's incredibly unhealthy."

Joy Winterbottom
It might be legal but I don't think it's moral. Some of the arms being sold, such as depleted uranium, are dreadful
Joy Winterbottom

The event has also caught the attention of the local community, more specifically the local borough council, Newham, which vociferously opposes it.

"Many residents are one with you," Labour councillor John Saunders told the rally.

"Nobody, but nobody wants this arms fair here," said another councillor, Alan Craig.

Referring to September 1940, when the area was heavily bombed by the Germans, he said: "The people of the East End know what it is to suffer from the arms trade."

Among the protesters were life-long conscientious objectors William and Mary Barnes, from north London.

"I just think this fair is so disgraceful, that the government should be encouraging it," said Mrs Barnes.

Libya has given up its weapons of mass destruction and as such there's no reason why they can't attend
Ministry of Defence

"I believe that it is immoral to sell arms to some of the dreadful regimes around the world that we do sell to," said Joy Winterbottom, also from north London.

"It might be legal but I don't think it's moral. Some of the arms being sold, such as depleted uranium, are dreadful."

But a spokesman for the Ministry of Defence said there was nothing to stop those countries that had been invited to the event attending.

He said: "For example, Libya has given up its weapons of mass destruction and as such there's no reason why they can't attend."

Countries were looking for equipment that would help with peacekeeping, security and such things as protection of fisheries.

He said that all countries would be adhering to a "strict export licence policy".




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