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Anti-war activists plan blockade of UK's biggest arms fair

Protesters are gathering in the run-up to the Defence and Security Equipment International event in east London next week
Protesters from London Palestine Action blocked several military vehicles from entering the site on Monday, before they were removed by police (screengrab)

Anti-arms trade campaigners have begun a week of protests aimed at stopping weapons and military vehicles arriving at the UK’s biggest arms fair in east London.

On Monday, activists from Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) and London Palestine Action attempted to blockade the run-up to next week’s Defence and Security Equipment International (DSEI) at the ExCeL centre in Docklands.

Protesters blocked a road approaching the site and attempted to stop several military vehicles entering the site before they were removed by police.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan has previously said that he would like the event to be banned and said he was opposed to the capital being used as a "market place for the trade of weapons to those countries that contribute to human rights abuses".

DSEI is advertised as “the world leading event” for buyers and seller of weapons and is expected to draw 34.000 visitors next week, including delegations from numerous Middle East states accused of rights abuses.

A world leading event?

Officials and military figures from Saudi Arabia, Egypt, UAE, Qatar and UAE are among those expected to attend. They will be addressed by UK Defence Minister Michael Fallon and Liam Fox, the international trade minister, as well as senior British Army officers.

Oliver Feeley-Sprague, Amnesty International UK’s programme director for military, security and police, said: “DSEI make it its business to put arms manufacturers and governments with horrendous human rights records in the same room.

"Countries like Saudi Arabia and Israel have used weapons, including those made in the UK, in attacks on innocent civilians in Yemen and Palestine, causing untold amounts of death and destruction. Shockingly, in recent years even banned and illegal weapons such as cluster bombs and torture equipment have been advertised as available for sale at DSEI."

He added: “It’s hardly surprising London mayor Sadiq Khan has called for this arms fair to be scrapped.”

A week of protests is planned in the run-up to DSEI, including a candlelit vigil, an academic conference, a performance from Faithless DJ Dave Randall and daily blockades by different campaign groups focusing on nuclear weapons, arms to Israel and freedom of movement for people instead of weapons.

Battle tested weapons on display

Leila White, a spokesperson for London Palestine Action, said: "The whole week will see us protest against militarisation, and for the collective liberation of all peoples enduring apartheid, occupation and the unaccountability of governments around the world, which should stop arming regimes – of which Israel is a key example - immediately.”

DSEI, which is held every two years, comes as new figures obtained by CAAT show that the UK has licensed more than £140m of weaponry to Israel since the attacks on Gaza in 2014. Israeli firms are reportedly planning to showcase their “battle-tested” weaponry at the arms fair.

“DSEI will bring many of the world’s most appalling regimes together with the biggest arms companies,” said Andrew Smith, a spokesperson for Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT), which has organised the protests.

“Right now UK fighter jets and bombs are playing a central role in the destruction of Yemen; what will be the next atrocity they are used in? War, repression and injustice are fuelled by events like DSEI. It’s time to shut it down for good.”

Last year, nine defendants had charges of obstructing the highway outside DSEI dismissed after they argued they acted to stop weapons being used to commit war crimes. 

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