8 Jan 2009
British government ban protest against massacre in Gaza
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PEACE campaigners attacked the government's "nonsensical" decision on Wednesday to ban Saturday's rally near the Israeli embassy against the brutal onslaught on Gaza.
The Stop the War Coalition said that The Royal Parks, which manages London's parkland, had told it late on Tuesday that the rally in Kensington Gardens could not go ahead on the grounds of safety and that demonstrations there were "unprecedented."
But Stop the War said that public anger at Israel's aggression was also unprecedented.
Chairman Andrew Murray vowed: "We are determined to exercise our democratic right to express that outrage in a public space near the Israeli embassy."
Mr Murray said that his organisation had learned that the decision had been made in consultation with Culture Secretary Andy Burnham and it was seeking an urgent meeting with him.
Mr Murray said: "The arrangements for our march and rally were notified to the police days ago.
"This nonsensical argument recalls government attempts to stop the rally against the Iraq war in February 2003 on the grounds that the grass in Hyde Park might be damaged."
But The Royal Parks claimed that the decision had been made without Mr Burnham's knowledge or approval.
"This was an operational decision taken by The Royal Parks and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport was advised accordingly," it said.
The march had been due to run from Speakers' Corner in Hyde Park to Kensington Gardens, circling the nearby Israeli embassy en route.
Although The Royal Parks cited safety fears as a reason to ban the protest, park officials had no problem letting tens of thousands of people gather in Kensington Gardens in 1997 to pay tribute to the late Princess Diana Spencer, leaving a mound of flowers five feet deep in places.
Protest organisers Stop the War, Palestine Solidarity Campaign and the British Muslim Initiative have asked protesters to bring their old shoes to heap up in a visual symbol of opposition to the slaughter in Gaza.
At 275 acres, Kensington Gardens is almost as big as 350-acre Hyde Park, which was used safely as the final rallying point for the 2 million-strong Iraq protest in February 2003.
Palestine Solidarity Campaign general secretary Betty Hunter said that, as well as the ban on rallying in Kensington Gardens, police would not allow marchers onto Kensington Palace Gardens, a public road.
Ms Hunter pointed out: "Tens of thousands of people from around the country want to show their disgust at Israel's immoral and illegal attacks on Gaza."
She warned The Royal Parks that, "if they ban this assembly point for the ending of the demonstration, then we will be forced to hold our rally in Kensington High Street itself."
The Department for Culture, Media and Sport refused to comment.
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