The Guardian NOVEMBER 29, 2015 - by Joel Gunter


Stretch of Whitehall blocked by four-thousand-strong protest outside Downing Street, and smaller rallies held in other cities.

Thousands of people gathered outside Downing Street and in cities around the UK on Saturday to protest against the government's plans to bomb Islamic State targets in Syria.

The protests, organised at short notice by the Stop The War Coalition, followed renewed calls for military action against the terror group in the wake of the attacks in Paris two weeks ago.

Parliament is expected to vote on the issue as early as next week after David Cameron urged MPs to back military action. Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour leader, has said the government has failed to make a convincing case for airstrikes.

A stretch of Whitehall was brought to a near standstill by the protest outside Downing Street, which passed off peacefully. The actor Mark Rylance, musician Brian Eno and the shadow international development minister, Diane Abbott, were among the speakers at the event.

About four thousand people attended the demonstration. Stop The War said before the event that up to eight thousand people were expected to take part. Smaller protests were planned for more than a dozen towns and cities including Bristol, Coventry, Manchester, Milton Keynes, Norwich and Swansea.

A quiet start to the demonstration in London gave way to loud chants of "Don't bomb Syria" and "Not in my name". David Beall, thirty-three, came from Croydon to take part and was carrying a homemade placard reading: "Who do you think you are kidding Mr Cameron?"

He said: "I came down today to voice my disagreement with the proposed war on Syria. Dropping bombs didn't work in Iraq, it didn't work in Afghanistan, and it's not worked in Libya. We've stoked up more extremism, more anger and more discontent among the populations of these countries."

Beall said he was "very pessimistic" about preventing the military action. "Sadly I think there will be strikes, I think David Cameron is determined to go in one way or another."

Lois Davis, sixty-one, a retired university lecturer, said she had attended every anti-Iraq war protest and it was "quite obvious we're doing the same thing all over again".

She said: "It's crazy and we have to do something about it. But unfortunately I think there will be strikes, unless Labour MPs realise they have a popular leader who represents public opinion."

Davis said she was disappointed the protest had not completely closed Whitehall to traffic. "To stop a war you've got be able to stop traffic," she said.

Chloe Radford, twenty, from Brighton, said she fully supported Corbyn's stance against the strikes but said she was pessimistic that he would prevail. "More and more Labour MPs seem to be coming out in favour of strikes so I'm not hopeful. But I'm here anyway, worth a shot isn't it?"

Daisy, twenty-two, from Lewisham, carried a homemade placard calling for peace and love, in English and Arabic. She said she was worried that bombing in Syria would foster greater division among British society.

"Fighting war with war is not the answer and fighting hatred with hatred is not the answer. We need to unite with the Muslims in our community," she said.

Addressing the crowd, Eno said bombing Syria would "make ISIL's dreams come true". Rylance chanted: "Don't bomb Syria, don't attack Syria, not in my name!"

The actor said: "I'm tired with being associated with terrorism. I'm tired of my tax money going towards violent solutions to problems of injustice."

Abbott, a close ally of Corbyn, said bombing in Syria would not make the country safe, "any more than bombing Iraq made Iraq safe".

Stop The War has urged its members to lobby MPs to vote against the strikes, and on Friday it said twenty-eight thousand people had used a web form to send letters to their local MP.

Lindsey German, who organised the Downing Street protest for Stop The War, said it was a "good start".

She said: "We've got thousands of people here and we've blocked Whitehall, and there are dozens of demonstrations going on around the country. I'm very pleased."

German said Stop The War would be back on the streets on the eve of a Commons vote if Cameron calls one. "There are a whole number of protests planned for this week and we will be lobbying MPs and doing everything we can to try to stop this bombing," she said.

The issue has caused a high-profile rift within the ranks of the Labour party, with Corbyn publicly at odds with his shadow foreign secretary, Hillary Benn. Labour has yet to confirm if it will grant its MPs a free vote or impose a whip.

On Saturday the shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, indicated that the Labour leadership would allow a free vote on the issue. Speaking to BBC Radio 4's Any Questions, McDonnell said Labour had made a "horrendous mistake" in whipping its MPs to vote for the conflict in Iraq.

A number of Conservative MPs are expected to rebel and vote against intervention in Syria. The Scottish National party has taken no formal decision about which way to vote, but a spokesman for the party said the "case for airstrikes in Syria has not been made".