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Britain: Landmark demonstration against the war in Afghanistan

Tariq Ali addresses the October 24 protest in London. More videos of the speeches below.

By Robin Beste

October 25, 2009 -- Stop the War Coalition UK -- Stop the War's demonstration on October 24 brought the centre of London to a standstill. It was a landmark demonstration, led by Lance Corporal Joe Glenton -- the first serving soldier in the British army to join an anti-war march.

The march brought together at least 10,000 protesters from across Britain, calling for all British troops to be brought home. Joining Joe Glenton at its head were ex-soldiers, a number of military family members -- including Peter Brierley, who earlier this month refused to shake former Labour PM Tony Blair's hand, saying it had "my son's blood on it" -- and 104-year-old peace campaigner Hetty Bower.

The march took place on the day that a new poll showed that almost two-thirds of people in Britain want all British troops withdrawn from Afghanistan and 86 per cent believe the war is being lost.

Joe Glenton is facing court martial for refusing to return to Afghanistan. He defied a direct order from his commanding officer to come on the march, for which he may well face further charges.

Joe Glenton, Clare Glenton and 104-year-old Hetty Bower

He told the demonstrators: "I expected to go to war but I also expected that the need to defend this country's interests would be legal and justifiable. I don't think this is too much to ask. It's now apparent that the conflict is neither of these and that's why I must make this stand. It is distressing to disobey orders, but when Britain follows America in continuing to wage war against one of the world's poorest countries, I feel I have no choice.

"Politicians have abused the trust of the army and the soldiers who serve, that's why I am compelled and proud to march with the Stop The War Coalition today"'

Joe's views were supported by ex-soldier Paul McGurk, who left the army last month, after serving in Afghanistan made him realise the war was unjustied. "I think it's ridiculous that we're there," Paul told ITN News, when interviewed on the march. "I think the government should stop pretending that it's a just war and it's worth the lives of our guys. The government should stop saying it's a winnable war because everyone knows it's not. We should just leave, and that's why I'm here today."

Peter Brierley -- whose son Lance Corporal Shaun Brierley was killed in Iraq and who made the headlines worldwide when he refused to shake Tony Blair's hand -- said, "When you actually look at what's happening, it's exactly the same as in Iraq. Civilians are being killed, British soldiers are being killed and the country is being ruined. They shouldn't be there. The people don't want them there."

Lindsey German, convenor of Stop the War Coalition.

Jeremy Corbyn Labour MP, vice-chairperson of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, said: ``The war in Afghanistan has no clear war aims, is clearly escalating and spinning out of control and can only impact on Pakistan and the whole of South Asia. NATO forces have been in Afghanistan for eight years and the result is increased drug production, high levels of corruption and terrible losses of life on all sides, civilian and military. Now is the time to change policy and bring the troops home to prevent a Vietnam-style quagmire.''

Tariq Ali, another speaker at the rally, challenged the British government or any politician to debate with Stop the War why Britain is fighting a war opposed by most people in Britain and in virtually every country round the world.

The country's oldest anti-war demonstrator, 104-year-old Hetty Bowyer, marched every step from Hyde Park to Trafalgar Square, where she told the crowd: ``I march because I can see no reason for further killing. I have walked on every march against us going to war. At my age there is not very much I can do but while my legs can carry me I am going to march.''

George Galloway, Respect.

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