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Wednesday, 18 September, 2002, 08:25 GMT 09:25 UK
Activists prepare anti-war campaign
Speakers at the anti-war rally
Activists were told they could prevent war against Iraq

Anti-war campaigners have been urged to seize the initiative while the US administration "hesitates" over Iraq.

Speaking at a Stop the War Coalition rally in East London, veteran left-wing journalist Paul Foot told activists they genuinely had the power to stop a conflict.

Those madmen that are in charge can be stopped

Paul Foot
He said public opinion was with the anti-war movement and the "utter madmen" in George Bush's administration had already bowed to pressure by going to the United Nations.

The onus was now on those against war to "move forward", he said.

"Those madmen that are in charge can be stopped," he added.


Mr Foot was helping to rally support for a major anti-war demonstration planned for Central London on 28 September.

Invoking the spirit of 1968's anti-Vietnam war demonstrations and the Poll Tax protests of 1990, he urged campaigners to "stop this government and all the other military governments in the world that are anxious to plunge us into world war".

Paul Foot
Foot: Rallying support for an anti-war demo
He dismissed talk of Saddam Hussein's Weapons of Mass Destruction as "piffle".

"If you close your eyes when they are talking about Iraq and replace it with Israel then everything they say applies.

"The weapons of mass destruction are there in the Middle East, they are in the hands of the Israeli government, the most dangerous hands they could possibly be in."

'Blair's poll tax'

To rapturous applause, Mr Foot told activists: "Whatever the UN says, we are against war with Iraq."

About 200 people gathered in the Bullion Room theatre, behind Hackney Town Hall, to rally support for the 28 September demonstration.

Diane Abbott, MP
Abbott: Conflict seems 'inevitable'
The campaign continued on Wednesday as celebrities including Blur's Damon Albarn and film maker Ken Loach signed an anti-war letter delivered to Downing Street.

Several speakers referred to Iraq as Tony Blair's poll tax.

There was also much talk of the tide of public opinion being with the anti-war movement, although several speakers attempted to link this to a wider left wing agenda.

A representative from the RMT rail union received a cheer when he reminded activists it was planning strike action on the evening of next Tuesday's emergency Parliamentary debate.

'Direct action'

"Don't just be against the war, be against capital. That's the cause of war," he told the meeting.

Another speaker alluded to "direct action", such as stopping traffic, if the bombing of Iraq starts.

Local Labour MP Dianne Abbott said she thought a conflict in Iraq "seemed inevitable" but added that support for it among the right wing press and elsewhere was far from unanimous.

"I have never seen, to use an old fashioned phrase, the forces of capital as divided about a war as they are about this one. There is no sense of unanimity around this war," she told the meeting.

The audience listens intently
About 200 people gathered in the Bullion Room theatre
Miss Abbott, who plans to speak out against war in next week's emergency Parliamentary debate, said she thought Iraq would be "like Suez and the Vietnamese war.

"I think it will prove to be a defining moment and that people will be forced to say where they stand," she added.

Asad Rahman, national organiser of the Stop the War coalition, urged campaigners to take strength from the fact that they had already forced a Parliamentary debate on the issue.

During an impassioned speech, he warned Tony Blair: "There will be a regime change and it will be yours."

Tokenism rejected

Sophie Bolt, of London Region CND, warned of the danger of a conflict in Iraq escalating into a nuclear war.

She said CND's top priority was now preventing war in Iraq and "ending the illegal action by Israel against Palestine".

Speaking after the meeting, Vivek Lehal, of Hackney Stop the War Coalition, which was set up last year by the Green Party and the Socialist Alliance, said he believed public opinion was hardening against war.

"It doesn't feel like a token stand against war. It feels different," he told BBC News Online.

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See also:

17 Sep 02 | Politics
06 Aug 02 | Politics
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