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Tens of thousands of pro-Palestine protesters march through London

[The Guardian]

Attenders reiterate call for ceasefire in Gaza and condemn PM’s comments linking protests to ‘extremism’

Tens of thousands of people marched through central London on Saturday reiterating calls for a ceasefire in Gaza in the first national demonstration since Rishi Sunak suggested pro-Palestine demonstrations were a display of “extremism”.

The march began in Hyde Park Corner and ended outside the US embassy in Nine Elms. Near the start of the march, a crowd gathered around drummers, whose instruments were clad with the Palestinian flag and who played to chants calling for an end to Israeli occupation.

The Palestine Solidarity Campaign, who organised the demonstration, said in a post on X that about 400,000 had attended the march. The Met police have yet to release their estimated count.

The singer Charlotte Church was among the demonstrators. She told the PA news agency: “I am here today to call for an immediate ceasefire, to ask our government and governments all over the world to send as strong message as we possibly can. But a strong, a peaceful, a loving message, that’s what every single march that I’ve been on for Palestine has been about.”

The singer Charlotte Church spoke to reporters at the demonstration. [Photograph: Hollie Adams/Reuters]

This is the first national demonstration organised by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign since the prime minster said there had been “a shocking increase in extremist disruption and criminality” since 7 October, in comments seen as a thinly veiled attack on pro-Palestine demonstrations. The media platform openDemocracy reported that 36 people who attended pro-Palestine rallies last year had been charged with an offence, and that the arrest rate at these marches was lower than at the most recent Glastonbury music festival.

Sunak’s comments were condemned by demonstrators. Sundari Anitha, 50, said: “I am here to support Palestine, to call for an end to the genocide and to call out the double standards of our government. They are widening the concept of extremism to attack the right of people to protest. I’m here both to defend the rights of Palestinian people and also my freedom to criticise my government.

Health workers leading chants at the protest. [Photograph: Andy Hall/The Observer]

“I think behind this is an undercurrent of Islamophobia. Because this round of protests are in support of the Palestinian cause, it’s become very easy for the Tories to conflate this with extremism and for people to accept this because there is a subconscious association of Muslims with extremism. They are playing on this.”

Late last month, at least 112 people were killed and 760 were injured during an incident in Gaza where desperate crowds gathered around aid trucks and Israeli troops opened fire.

Anitha said: “We are just standing by and letting a whole population starve. We’ve been there before. We’ve been there in Bosnia, we’ve been there in the 1940s. It’s a repeat of that scenario that is happening. The whole meaning of the term never again is to say that the world should not stand by and let a people be starved to death. We are just standing by and doing that.”

Nick Laws attended with his son. [Photograph: Andy Hall/The Observer]

Nick Laws, 47, was equally critical of Sunak. He said: “Honestly, my reaction is fuck you, Rishi. It’s as simple as that. I’m not a man who swears often but that guy gets me angry. Who is he to tell me that I’m not allowed to be disgusted with innocent people being murdered. Keir Starmer is cut from the same cloth. He might make different noises but his reluctance to call murder ‘murder’ shows me everything about him I need to know.”

He noted the different tone the government uses when discussing the Russian invasion of Ukraine. He said: “The lack of empathy for the Gazan people compared to how the government reacted over Russia’s invasion in Ukraine is just an absolute disgrace. To me, there is no choice but to come out and show our genuine disgust about how the government is dealing with this, which is not at all.”

Nadia Spurr, pictured with her granddaughter, Janna Kabuyinjie, said the events unfolding in Gaza were ‘heartbreaking’. [Photograph: Andy Hall/The Observer]

Nadia Spurr, 71, said the images and events coming out of Gaza were “heartbreaking”.

“World leaders are just sitting back and doing nothing and just pretending life goes on. These people are getting killed, babies are dying and they’re doing nothing.

“Where are all the Arab countries that can do something? Where are the leaders who can do something. What are they doing? Nothing. People are dying all the time. Babies in incubators are dying,” she said.

“We have to keep protesting until this stops. We can’t stop protesting.”

This was the tenth national demonstration for Palestine organised by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign.


(c) 2024, The Guardian


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