Anti-war protest masses in London

ARMED with banners and the conviction that war against Iraq is wrong, young and old Suffolk campaigners joined the march in London today.Up to ten coaches filled with protesters set off for the anti-war protest in pensive mood in preparation for the peaceful protest.

ARMED with banners and the conviction that war against Iraq is wrong, young and old Suffolk campaigners joined the march in London today.

Up to ten coaches filled with protesters set off for the anti-war protest in pensive mood in preparation for the peaceful protest.

"It's so wrong - It's to do with oil and the US wanting to extend its grasp on the world. It wants to be the super power," said Michael Barnard, 15, a student at Suffolk College.

"I have been campaigning for the last four months, I have tried to find out as much about it as possible."

"I'm opposed to war, we have the most weapons of mass destruction, I'm not a pacifist I'm opposed to unnecessary violence," said retired John Bristow, 60, of Portman Road, Ipswich.

Joan Barker, 61, of Mendlesham Green, had never been on a march before but said the threat of war made her want to stand up and be counted in the one million people expected to march in London.

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"War is evil, work for peace - I don't think there is a reason to go to war. I don't think there is a tie up between al quaida and Saddam Hussein – I think its just them trying to prove something.

"It just seems instead of concentrating on al quaida, they just seem to want a war for the sake of it."

Gardener Daniel Sanford, 43, of Woodville Road, Ipswich, said: "I'm against the war against Iraq, bombing Iraq won't help – there are other ways."

Ipswich Stop the War Coalition organised the Suffolk link-up with hundreds of thousands of people opposed to a war against Iraq flooding into the capital.

The demonstration is being billed as the UK's largest peace protest.

Police put the numbers expected at 500,000 while organisers were hinting there might be up to a million.

Coaches from all corners of the country began descending on the capital in the early hours, bringing together people from across the social spectrum.

Alongside veteran peace campaigners, trade unionists and anti-globalisation activists will be pensioners, lawyers, bankers and middle-class housewives with their children.

For thousands of them it will be their first protest march with many having joined new anti-war groups formed in their villages, churches and colleges.

Marchers will include a group of Bedford taxi drivers called "Britons Versus Bush" and a collection of DJs dubbed "Ravers Against The War".

More than 4,500 police will be on duty for the march with leave cancelled.

Weather forecasters predicted it would be "dry as a bone'' which could further swell the crowds.

The marchers will set off from two points - Gower Street in north London and Embankment on the Thames - before congregating at Hyde Park.

Scotland Yard Commissioner Sir John Stevens said: "We could be looking at a demonstration of half a million people

"There is no reason to expect violence or disorder but the mood is likely to be affected by world events.

"The organisers have co-operated with us and the job of the police is to ensure it goes smoothly.''

Sir John admitted the demonstration was stretching his resources but was confident his officers would cope.

"There are one or two very tired people in this organisation,'' he said.

"We ask people to be patient as large numbers take time to move.''

Assistant Commissioner Tim Godwin, who is responsible for territorial policing in London, said the the scale of the demonstration combined with the current level of the terrorist threat and policing football matches today was putting pressure on resources.

He said 10 operations which were part of the Met's "Safer Streets'' campaign against street crime had been cancelled in the last week because of the commitment to making London safe.

Deputy Assistant Commissioner Andy Trotter, in charge of policing the march, said: "Our message is don't come into the centre of the capital unless it's absolutely necessary.

"Large crowds move slowly. People need to be prepared for a long wait before they set off and be patient with police.

"If we advise you to do something, there is a reason for it.''

He said it would not be necessary to draft in troops and he was also confident the march would not be hijacked by groups intent on trouble.

He said: "My feeling is that because of the nature of the march and their cause, then this will be a peaceful occasion.''

He also advised women not to drink a lot before the march because queues for toilets would be "horrendous".

The Don't Attack Iraq demonstration will begin at 12.30pm.

Those travelling from the north will assemble at Gower Street and head down Shaftsbury Avenue while those from London and everywhere else will assemble at Embankment and head past Westminster and Trafalgar Square.

The two strands of the march will unite at Piccadilly and continue to Hyde Park.

Speakers there will include US civil rights campaigner Jesse Jackson, former Labour MP Tony Benn and Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy.

Other high profile figures at the rally are expected to include popstar Damon Albarn, model Kate Moss, peace campaigner Bianca Jagger, politician Mo Mowlam, playwright Harold Pinter and London mayor Ken Livingstone.

Many roads were due to be closed until 5.30pm.

The rally is co-ordinated by the Stop the War Coalition who are predicting the broadest grassroots mobilisation in British history, dwarfing anti-Vietnam rallies of the 1960s and peace rallies in the 1980s.

They believe it will surpass the 400,000-strong countryside march last year.

A spokesman said it was a chance for the public to "show Tony Blair what they really think about this war".

He said their best recruiting agents had been Tony Blair and George Bush.

More than 450 organisations have affiliated themselves to the coalition including Greenpeace, the Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru and the SNP.

Concerns have been expressed in the Jewish community that the anti-war march has been linked to the "Freedom for Palestine'' campaign but some Jewish and Arab protesters will be marching together.

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