On Sunday 15th of June, as George W. Bush was making his way to Downing Street for his last state visit to the UK, thousands of people were gathering in Parliament Square following a call from the Stop the War Coalition.
Although the turn out to Sunday's protest was much smaller than in 2003 when Bush last visited the UK in the high of the Anti-War protest movement, by mid afternoon a crowd of around 2500 determined people were already making clear what they thought of the legacy of George Bush's wars in the Middle East and the US driven War on Terror [Demo video report] A powerful sound system had been set on the square from where several people, including Brian How, made speeches. Meanwhile the crowd kept demanding the arrest of George Bush for his "terrorist activities and war crimes" in countries such as Iraq and Afghanistan.
The protest had already been banned by the Metropolitan Police from marching through Whitehall, therefore crash barriers and police lines had been set at the southern end of Whitehall to prevent the demonstration from moving forward. At some point, the crowd approached the barriers and police lines to demand their right to demonstrate, but they were faced by a line of baton wielding police that started hitting those at the front. As a result a series of scuffles followed, resulting with some head injuries and bruises to some protesters, and the first wave of arrests.
Eventually, a large number of police with riot gear took positions to protect the entrance to Whitehall, whilst at the same time groups of TSG and FIT police forces started to carry a series of snatch arrests around the Parliament Square area [Video of arrests]. By the end of the evening 25 people had been arrested, some of which are now facing charges.
Although this may be the first time that the Metropolitan Police openly attacks a Stop the War Coalition demonstration in London in such a generalised way, the truth is that many autonomous groups, antiwar protesters and activists have encountered this sort of police behaviour in previous anti war mobilisations when they have been targeted for repression, without any show of solidarity from the STWC or even, at times, with an alleged tactical co-operation from Stop the War stewards.
STWC has now issued an statement protesting for the "violent policing of the demonstration" and stating that they will not be "co-operating with the police in regard to future protests until these concerns are addressed to our satisfaction". It is therefore not surprising that whilst some people find this an "interesting development", they also ask whether this may mean that the "STWC will shortly be issuing a press release apologising to the anti-authoritarian movement for stewards antagonising them, impeding their movement, labelling them the reason the anti-war movement has died, etc?"