Thousands in London condemn Israeli bombing of Gaza
LONDON (AFP) — About 12,000 people marched through London Saturday in protest against Israel's military offensive on Gaza, police said, in a demonstration that began peacefully but ended in a string of arrests.
Many people carried red, green, white and black Palestinian flags and some chanted "Israel terrorists" and "Free, free Palestine" as they filed along the River Thames towards Trafalgar Square.
Police said about 12,000 people took part, but organisers of the Stop the War Coalition estimated the crowd at around 50,000.
Some protesters threw their shoes at the iron gates of British premier Gordon Brown's Downing Street home to express their anger at his refusal to condemn Israeli airstrikes that have killed hundreds of Palestinians.
Brown issued a statement saying he had urged Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to agree to an "immediate ceasefire", and foreign minister David Miliband repeated this call after Israeli tanks went in to Gaza later Saturday.
After the march through London, about 5,000 people gathered outside the Israeli embassy, police said, where they were confronted with hundreds of police officers in riot gear.
Police said a small number of people threw sticks at them, but the Stop the War Coalition complained of heavy handed policing. Fifteen arrests were made.
Later, when news of the Israeli ground operation broke, the coalition called for further protests outside the Israeli embassy on Sunday and all next week.
Attending the main march were veteran left-wing politician Tony Benn and former Eurythmics singer Annie Lennox, who said that both the Palestinians and Israelis were "wrong" and a total ceasefire was the only option.
Lennox said the intervention from US President George W. Bush blaming Hamas for starting the violence would only inflame the situation.
"The problem is, from my perspective, they are pouring petrol onto the fire," she told the BBC.
"They have to sit down. This is a small window of opportunity just before things kick off.
"For every one person killed in Gaza, they are creating 100 suicide bombers. It's not just about Gaza, it's about all of us."
One protester, Nadim Dimechkie, a 31-year-old British-Palestinian writer from London, said Israel had been heavy-handed in its response to the firing of Hamas rockets into Israeli territory.
"The Israeli response has been disproportionate and it is creating a lot of angry young Palestinians because you cannot force people to live in a prison. If you do, they will fight," he said.
Alexei Sayle, an actor and comedian well known to British TV audiences, also took part. He said: "As a Jew it's very moving to see so many people who are so outraged at Israel's actions.
"Israel is a democratic country that is behaving like a terrorist organisation."
Protests against Israel's campaign have been held across Britain all week, and on Saturday about 2,000 people gathered in Manchester, northwest England, a further 500 each in Edinburgh and Glasgow in Scotland, and in Portsmouth, southeast England, as well as 300 in the western city of Bristol.