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banner Sunday, 30 September, 2001, 07:43 GMT 08:43 UK
Protest targets Labour conference
Brighton conference
Police search equipment being taken into the Brighton Conference Centre
A coalition of protest groups plans to march on the Labour Party Conference, which opens in Brighton on Sunday amid an unprecedented level of security.

The heightened alert after the US terror attacks and the expectation of up to 8,000 anti-capitalist and anti-war demonstrators has seen a massive police presence brought to Brighton.

Police have pledged to deal "robustly" with any disruption by protesters, while a five-mile air exclusion zone is just one measure to help guard against possible terrorist attacks.

Brighton conference
A police marksman casts a watchful eye over the venue
Meanwhile, senior party figures pledged Labour will not be distracted from democratic debate, even if the expected clash between the government and unions looks to have been postponed as the international crisis continues.

The conference will begin at 1400BST with a minute's silence, and runs for three days - until lunchtime on Wednesday.

The organisation Globalise Resistance, along with CND, trade unionists and some single issue groups are planning to march through the seaside city to the conference centre on Sunday afternoon.

Police search sewers
Police are searching the sewers under the conference centre

A similar anti-globalisation protest at last year's Labour Party annual conference attracted up to 1,000 people, but did not erupt in violence.

This year, police have for the first time been issued with pepper spray to use on protesters if they get out of hand.

Labour chairman Charles Clarke insisted that democratic debate would continue on the world crisis and domestic issues at the conference.

But he added: "Certainly, most people in the country are going to be looking at the international situation first, ahead of party politics.

Anti-capitalist protest in central London
London saw large anti-capitalist demos earlier this year
"As far as we are concerned we are going to debate the issues, including the international situation, very fully and we think that the right thing to do."

Public sector union Unison said it expected its motion calling for an end to the Private Finance Initiative (PFI) to be debated on Monday.

But it has postponed the launch of a 1m advertising campaign condemning the government's plans to make greater use of private contractors in running schools and hospitals.

The Unison general secretary, Dave Prentis, said they shared the public's concern about recent international events, adding the domestic agenda would be "returned to in the autumn".

The union has however arranged for uniformed nurses to give "Keep Public Services Public" postcards to delegates arriving at Brighton train station on Sunday.

Police officers stand guard outside the Grand Hotel
A ring of steel and a thin blue line surround the Grand Hotel

Galvanised steel barriers similar to those used on motorways have been built into the roads and pavements to stop hijacked vehicles ramming Brighton's conference centre and main hotels.

Outside the Grand Hotel, blown up by the IRA during the Conservative Party conference in October 1984, they are twice as high.

RAF fighter planes are also on standby to protect the airspace over the town.

The event has already been shortened due to the 11 September suicide attacks in the United States.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's political correspondent John Pienaar
"The security is unprecedented but unsurprising"
Protester Jonathan Beale
"I am fearful of what might happen in Afghanistan"
The BBC's Nicholas Jones
reports on the level of security surrounding the conference
See also:

30 Sep 01 | UK Politics
Spending plans are safe - Brown
03 Sep 01 | ppp
Unions lead opposition
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