H | 21.03.2003 16:11 | Anti-militarism
Hundreds of Dundee schoolchildren abandoned their classrooms today and converged on the city centre to protest against the escalating conflict in Iraq, write Stuart Johnstone, Brian Smith, Vicki Birmingham and Steven
Ironically, some of the pupils decided to show their commitment to Peace on Earth by running riot, attacking other schoolchildren and trying to wreck buses.
Children from schools across the city marched towards the centre, where they were met by a heavy police presence. A line of officers formed a human barrier to prevent the children gaining access to City Square, where the Scottish Labour Party conference begins tomorrow.
A number of the children were described as "going on the rampage."
The demonstrators then headed off along Murraygate, almost completely occupying the carriageway.
At the same time, a group of up to an estimated 200 youngsters, thought to be from schools in the east end of the city, marched down through Craigiebank and headed for the city centre via East Dock Street.
The crowd at times spilled on to the carriageway and vehicles were taking avoiding action. Pupils as young as first year were involved.
A group rampaged through a section of the city centre at lunchtime attacking buses carrying Dundee High School pupils.
Alarmed by their behaviour, people sought safety in nearby offices until the group, perhaps 30 to 40 strong, moved on.
A witness said he looked out and saw the group, some wearing school uniforms he could not make out, shouting and swearing at the Dundee High pupils.
"They were going along the side of the buses banging on the metal with their hands. I saw schoolbags, holdalls, being swung up at the windows and when the group moved on, I could see a window was broken."
Another witness said he saw one of the mob grab a hockey stick from a
Dundee High pupil and swing it against a window and break it before
running off. The buses drove off as soon as the way was clear.
The mob then ran towards Bell Street before doing a U-turn down
Constitution Street and heading for the city centre.
Around noon there was a large police presence in the city centre as more
and more young people arrived.
One group returned to the High School at about 1.30 and again began
A witness said, "The High School kids were out for lunch and I saw one wee
lad having his blazer stolen. The next thing, a demon-strator was
swaggering about wearing it.
"Police are there now and the teachers from the High School are out remonstrating with what appears to be one of the organisers."
A spokesperson for Dundee City Council said, "Teachers and staff have done their utmost to persuade pupils not to leave school without permission.
Pupils have also been told that unauthorised absences will be reported to their parents."
One woman, the parent of a girl at Menzieshill High School said the protest is a danger to children’s safety. "I am not happy with the thought of my daughter wandering through the street," she said.
A spokesperson for Tayside Police said, "A large number of pupils left school despite efforts to persuade them not to. The director of education has been liaising closely with the police to discuss the situation.
"Minor damage has been caused in the city centre and it would appear certain adults are aggravating the situation. Tayside Police are working hard to try to negotiate an orderly protest."
Several hundred noisy youngsters gathered in the area around Boots corner, prevented by police from entering City Square, while the mobile CCTV unit kept an eye on proceedings.
Harvey Duke, a member of the Dundee Coalition For Peace Not War, which organised the protest, said he believed it was acceptable for young people to be out of school to voice their opposition to conflict in the gulf.
"Our purpose, as in every other city in Britain, is to show our opposition to the bombing of innocent civilians in Iraq", said Mr Duke.
Mr Duke criticised the council for not allowing a "peaceful protest" in the City Square. He also alleged that "one or two" police officers in the area had been heavy handed, a claim refuted by a senior officer.
"It’s not true - the young people were incited by the speaker, who appeared to encourage them to rush the barrier," said Inspector Rod Bowman. "They were prevented from climbing the barrier into City Square, which is being kept as a sterile area."
As the rally went on, more protesters were expected to join from the universities and college and the nearby council offices. Police were keeping an eye on a group of 150 school pupils who marched along Arbroath Road into the City Square.
Councillor Allan Petrie was highly critical of the organisers of an event, which he claimed had seen eggs thrown and a fight take place.
"I think children have a right under the UN Convention to peaceful assembly," he said. "But this is unorganised and I’m concerned somebody is going to be injured. This would have been better organised for a Saturday."
* Around 70 Monifieth High students left school at lunchtime to protest against the war in Iraq. They staged a peaceful protest in the street across from the school, waving banners that said "No War".
* The Scottish Socialists refused to criticise schoolchildren rampaging through Dundee city centre today. A spokesman said, "I am sure they are not causing as much damage as the military are in Baghdad."
Dundee businessman Ian Beattie, proprietor of the Bread Basket in Meadowside, said schoolchildren were allowed to "run amok" in the city centre.
"It was absolute pandemonium," he said. "We had a lot of Dundee High pupils in the shop, along with other customers when kids from another school started shouting abuse.
"They started grabbing books from the charity shop next door and running into our shop and throwing them about. One narrowly missed an elderly man. These are just thugs and it’s a disgrace."
A Dundee woman, who does not wish to be named, said she was appalled at a scene at today’s peace protest in the city centre. She called for a man with a megaphone to be charged with inciting violence in the youngsters who turned out.
"I watched as a young girl, who looked as if she had tried to snatch a banner was beaten with the banner. A crowd turned on her and kicked her as she lay on the floor. I moved to try and help, but a man was defending her. Police appeared and dispersed the crowd."
A large group of pupils heading towards the city centre protests caused havoc by smashing four glass bus shelters in Arbroath Road at around noon.
"The only way"
Marion Vuyk (16) a fourth-year pupil at Braeview academy said, "We walked out of school at 11.30am and collected other pupils from St Saviour’s before going on to Craigie High, where the gates were locked.
"This is the only way we can voice our opinion strongly. There will always be some pupils who have come to things like this just to get out of class, but most of us strongly believe in protesting against the war."
Around 100 members of the Dundee University anti-war group marched into the City Square today to make their feelings known about the conflict.
Dundee AUT executive member Carlo Morelli said the group included students, lecturers and other support staff who opposed the US-led invasion of Iraq.
The Rev Erik Cramb joined demonstrators in the city centre and said he was delighted to see such a strong local front against the war.
"I heard a local radio station saying that people would be stopping work for a wee while and coming down here at 1pm. I came down to support it because I am hugely ashamed that we have gone to war."
When the rally came to an end, a group several hundred strong, comprising adults and children, set off along the Nethergate for a sit-down protest at the Marketgait junction.
Bringing traffic to a standstill, the process then snaked down the Marketgait and on an ad-hoc route to the Tay Road Bridge.
Police accompanying the march quickly blocked the top of the access ramp to the bridge, citing safety concerns, and after a brief stand-off the demonstrators returned to Boots corner and dispersed at 2.30pm - three hours after the protest began.