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Last Updated: Saturday, 5 August 2006, 22:59 GMT 23:59 UK
Demo brings ceasefire calls to UK
By Alexis Akwagyiram
BBC News

Ahlam Saleh
Ahlam Saleh was among thousands of people to join the march

Thousands of demonstrators joined a march in London on Saturday calling for a ceasefire in Lebanon.

On a bright afternoon many of central London's streets were filled with thousands of people of all ages and races chanting in unison.

"Ceasefire now! Ceasefire now!" was among the calls adopted by the placard-holding throng, as was "Hands off Lebanon", and a number of others criticising Tony Blair and George Bush.

Protesters from differing cultures and faiths were united under placards condemning the actions that have led to the Middle East crisis.

And a large proportion bore sentiments criticising Israel - views that many campaigners shared.

Francesca Bolestreri, 33, a student from Hackney, east London, typified the anger and frustration being expressed by some.

"What is happening is complete madness - it is outrageous that Israel are allowed to do what they are doing," she said.

"They are destroying Lebanon for the second time in my lifetime. I'm really angry that Europe is not taking a stand. And the UN is taking its time while people are being killed."

Tim Diggle holding his home-made placard
Both sides are fuelled by fundamentalist dogma and innocent people are dying
Tim Diggle
IT technician

This sense of outrage was echoed by many others, including Essam Awad, an Egyptian-born IT technician, who attended the march with his two young daughters.

"This isn't fair," he said. "How can anyone justify the mass killing of innocent people?

"Israel is bombing innocent people for no reason. The issue of the two soldiers was just an excuse - everybody knows that. We need protests like this to take a stand."

Despite placards proclaiming "We are all Hezbollah" being commonplace, march organiser Lindsay Germain said the event was not a "pro-Hezbollah demonstration", pointing out she had used her speech at Parliament Square to criticise the organisation.

However, she said many people saw the crisis as the result of a "David and Goliath" conflict.

Protest critics

But Israel was not the sole focus of criticism. There was widespread condemnation of Tony Blair's conduct and the actions of the US.

"Blair and Bush should put a stop to what is going on. They could if they wanted to, but they aren't doing anything," said Ahlam Saleh, 21, a full-time mother from Battersea, south London.

These feelings came to the fore at certain points during the march - most notably beside the US Embassy and outside Downing Street.

A loud chorus of boos and shrill whistles rang out from the throng as protesters passed the embassy, which was guarded by a heavy police presence.

Demonstrators holding placards
The event was awash with placards

And despite the protest being peaceful and good-natured for the most part, there was disquiet, momentarily, at the Cenotaph.

As the sound of boos and whistles rose up once more, coupled with increasingly loud anti-Blair chants, children's shoes were thrown at the gates leading to Downing Street in protest at the deaths of youngsters in the conflict.

However, organisers were quick to calm protesters and prevented any major flashpoints by insisting that people maintained an orderly procession rather than arguing with the police.

Despite the groundswell of feelings vented at those seen by some to be to blame for the crisis - or failing to prevent its escalation - others adopted differing views.

Tim Diggle, 27, held aloft a home-made banner calling for both sides to cease fighting.

Ceasefire plea

"It is important to recognise that Hezbollah and Hamas are not interested in peace with Israel - they want to destroy it. Neither they nor Israel are interested in peace," said the IT technician from Battersea, south London.

"Both sides are fuelled by fundamentalist dogma and innocent people are dying.

"I came here because I'm interested in helping the campaign for peace and stopping the massacre of innocent people."

Expressing a similar plea for a ceasefire rather than identifying potential culprits, Elizabeth Kerr said harrowing news footage of victims had prompted her to attend the march in the hope that it would help to persuade Western powers to work towards a ceasefire.

But not everyone was so optimistic about the possible effects of the march.

Mark Chandler
Mark Chandler said the march was likely to have little effect

"I think this march is a bit of a waste of time to be honest," said Mark Chandler, a 27-year-old sculptor from Croydon, south London, as he listened to speakers addressing people at the culmination of the march in Parliament Square.

When pressed about his assessment, the sculptor was quick to put this remark into context.

"I'm not saying that it wasn't worth coming, but damage has already been done - people have been killed and Israel has instilled fresh hatred within a new generation of Lebanese people, many of whom will probably turn to Hezbollah.

"Realistically, I don't expect this event to force a ceasefire. I want this march to prompt a vote of no confidence in Tony Blair. I hope it pushes him out of office."

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