London demonstration against the war in the Balkans

By our own reporter
11 May 1999

On Saturday May 8, over 5,000 participated in the London demonstration against the war in the Balkans. Coaches from around the country brought protestors to the capital, where they marched from the Embankment to a final rally in Hyde Park.

Throughout the length of the march, people carried wooden crosses bearing the names of some of those killed by NATO bombs.

As the marchers walked, many joined in the chants: "NATO out! Stop the bombing! Welfare, not warfare! New Labour, new war!" The demonstration, which had been called by the Committee for Peace in the Balkans, included a wide spectrum of organisations: CND (Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament), the Quakers, several local trade union branches, the Greens and various other radical parties. Young people and students, as well as pensioners and the unemployed supported the demonstration.

It also included a number of ex-service personnel who opposed the US-NATO action. A former British army recruit who served during World War II said that British Prime Minister Tony Blair could "be leading us into a Third World War". He angrily denounced the biased media coverage, saying, "We are not getting the truth about how many women and kids are dying in Serbia every night because of this stupid bombing. It has got to stop! As far as I am concerned, the quicker we get rid of Blair, the better."

A small counter-demonstration of some 100 supporters of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) had assembled outside Hyde Park. They waved British and American flags and chanted: "Long live the KLA. Good luck NATO!"

Inside Hyde Park, at the closing rally, Alice Mahon, Labour MP and chairwoman of the Campaign for Peace in the Balkans, called the attack on Yugoslavia "a mad policy of indiscriminate bombing". She said, "The only way to stop this madness is for the UN to talk, with the support of China and Russia, for a negotiated settlement, but the bombing has to stop."

Former CND leader Bruce Kent denounced the bombing campaign as "an absolute catastrophe which is just getting worse and worse". Labour MPs Tony Benn and Tam Dalyell, Tory MP John Randall, and author Germaine Greer were also among those who took part in the demonstration.

Tony Benn said: "NATO is engaged in a war of aggression which is against the UN charter. What is happening amounts to war crimes. They will say they did not mean to bomb the Chinese Embassy, but they have also bombed a civilian hospital and market."