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Leeds Says No To War on Iraq: Round-Up

Leeds IMC | 30.06.2003 23:00 | Anti-militarism | Iraq | Social Struggles

The anger against the US-UK war on Iraq, which millions saw clearly as a war for oil and US empire, produced the monster international protests on February 15th when up to 2 million people in Britain alone took to the streets of London. Over 40 coaches went from Leeds. Although a strong anti-war movement had already emerged, February 15th inspired the biggest demonstrations that Leeds had seen for decades.

Leeds M27 Protests Mark 1 Week of Illegal War & Target BBC
Leeds M27 Protests Mark 1 Week of Illegal War & Target BBC

An evening candle-lit vigil was organised by the local anti-war coalition on Thursday 27 February and protesters signalled their intent by briefly blocking the road. Then came the biggest political demonstration Leeds had seen for in recent memory when on Saturday 15 March (2), 10,000 people from across the city, region and country marched to say no to war, which by this stage was almost certain.

Bush’s speech to the American people on Sunday evening gave Saddam Hussein and his family 48 hours to leave the country or war would follow. With the country on the brink, a national student walkout took place on March 19 with hundreds of school kids joining university students for a lunchtime march through Leeds, met with some heavy-handed policing.

That night, the first bombs were dropped on Iraq and ‘day X’ had finally arrived – a national day of walkouts, occupations, demonstrations and direct action. March 20 saw thousands across Leeds join the millions across the country in a frenzy of action. As people began to wake up to the news of the first bombs, protesters had already shut down the Armley Gyratory in a dawn roadblock, stopping traffic for several hours. Council workers walked out at lunchtime and were met by hundreds of school and college students who bunked off school despite intimidation from teachers and heads. An afternoon demonstration simply never went home and by the early evening, over 2000 people from all walks of life were marching through central Leeds and blocking roads (for the second time that day!). Thousands of students walked out in Ilkley, Bradford and other towns in West Yorkshire (see Sheffield Stop the War website.

This kicked off a week of demonstrations and walk-outs. Protests began to target BBC North to highlight the mainstream media’s role in broadcasting government propagandae, with its embedded reporters and so-called military "experts". Out of this came pressure for a Leeds Indymedia. Naturally, there were many tensions within the local anti-war movement over tactics and direction. Protests also began to focus on US bases up and down the country. In North Yorkshire, thousands travelled from the surrounding regions and as far as Cornwall to ‘Foil the Base’ at Menwith Hill, the US spy base.

Daily lunchtime stalls were held throughout the war and near the official end of the conflict, a silent funeral procession was held through Leeds city centre in memory of all those who had died during the US-UK invasion. Then came the famous ‘BBC 24’ protest when a group of 24 activists staged a bloody die-in outside the BBC studios in continued protest at war propaganda, and the role regional stations were playing in parading British soldiers and their families as the only victims main of the war. There were 11 arrests in a two-hour performance, but unsurpisingly, the BBC refused to report it.

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