Londoners march for ME cease-fire

Organizers expect 50,000 protesters to join in condemning British PM Blair.

london protest 298.88 (photo credit: Channel 2)
london protest 298.88
(photo credit: Channel 2)
Thousands of people marched through London Saturday, demanding an immediate cease-fire in the Middle East. Police said between 7,000 and 8,000 people gathered at Speaker's Corner in Hyde Park before marching past the US Embassy and on to Parliament. Organizers - a coalition of peace, Muslim, Palestinian and Lebanese groups - said they expected more than 50,000 to join the march, demanding an end to fighting. Many protesters carried Lebanese flags or placards with slogans including "Yo Blair, go Blair" - a reference to US President George W. Bush's overheard greeting to the British leader during last month's Group of Eight Summit. "The demonstration shows the unity of any normal thinking person in this country that there should be an immediate cease-fire and that the government's line is incomprehensibly wrong," said Jeremy Corbyn, a lawmaker from Blair's Labor Party. Many placards were critical of Israel and demanded an end to occupation of the Palestinian territories. Veteran peace campaigner Bianca Jagger, walking at the head of the march, said the protest was not anti-Israel. "I support the existence of Israel and I think we are wrong to say otherwise," she said. "But watching the images of innocent children dying as we have been for the last 24 days does not promote a peaceful solution in the region." Aides said he discussed the wording of proposed United Nations resolution to stop the fighting on Friday with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, French President Jacques Chirac, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and other leaders, and met with a delegation of Lebanese officials. A spokesman said Blair believed "progress is being made" toward a UN resolution, but would not speculate on when an agreement might be reached. US and French officials, who are leading the negotiations, have said they are close to agreement but that some issues remain unresolved. "We're not going to put a timeframe on it, but it is important an agreement is reached as quickly as possible to end the fighting," Blair's spokesman said on the government's customary condition of anonymity. Work and Pensions Secretary John Hutton on Saturday denied reports of a rift within Blair's Cabinet over the prime minister's refusal to call for Israel to halt its offensive in Lebanon. Blair has repeatedly said a cease-fire can happen only once the groundwork for a long-standing peace is in place. "I think the government is very strongly behind what the prime minister is trying to do here, which is to find a way to build, yes, an immediate cease-fire that ends the death and destruction ... but then puts in place a process where we can allow the peace and security in the region to begin again," Hutton told British Broadcasting Corp. radio.