Manchester - Anti War Protest - 20th March 2003

Last night in Manchester City Centre over two thousand people gathered in Piccadilly Gardens to protest against Tony Blair's and George Bush's decision to go ahead with War without a second UN Resolution. Organized by the Stop The War Coalition in Manchester, the protest was just one of many similar events taking place across the UK and follows the recent rally on March 8th which 12,000 people attended in torrential rain.

With a police presence that dwarfed the February 15th protests in the Capital, many people who had attended the peaceful demonstration complained of police intimidation. The 2000 strong protesters started from approximately 5.30pm in Piccadilly Garden before heading down Market Street past the Arndale Centre and then onto Deansgate. When attempting to head back into the City Centre itself they were met by three police vans and up to fifty police officers who barricaded the road and were aggressively manhandling protesters. At this stage the police were using strong-arm tactics with approximately twenty mounted police officers forcing people into Great Bridgewater Street where protesters were held against their will for up to thirty minutes. With a genuine tension and fear hanging in the air one protester was overheard saying "If they keep this many people in such a confined space they're going to end up with another Hillsborough".

Designer Magazine correspondent Alex McCann was on the front-line and saw the police intimidation first hand. A 50 year old lady in education who wished to remain anonymous spoke to Designer Magazine about the intimidation she suffered personally, "Were both older women, were over fifty and we just came because we think the war is wrong. But we were astonished that when we found ourselves at the front of the march and confronting a line of police, they said "if you don't want to get pushed around then go home". It was a completely peaceful demonstration until they trapped us here at the end of Great Bridgewater Street with 3 police vans, 2 rows of police and mounted police behind" Compared to both the march just over a week ago in Manchester and the February 15th rally many people thought this level of police presence was unnecessary. A protester who had attended both marches has this to say "There was nothing like this in London with many more people. But this is just asking for trouble. They're trying to stir up people and get trouble caused and then they will turn round and suggest this is what happens when you allow people to demonstrate. I've been on loads of demonstrations over the years and I've never ever been in a situation like this and it's not of our making, it's of the polices".

The police officers on the scene were asked to comment on the allegations of police intimidation, but demanded I turn off the tape recorder before forcefully suggesting that "I suggest you go and get some common sense. Now move on". The march itself ended at approximately 8.30pm, where it had started, at Piccadilly Gardens. As we were leaving the scene we saw a casualty of the protest with his hands heavily bleeding and ambulance sirens heading our way from the South of the City. Whether this injury was as a result of police intervention we do not know, but the 2000 people involved in the march came to protest peacefully about the killing of innocent civilians in Iraq at the hands of the US and UK Military. It's extremely unlikely a protester would undermine the ideology behind the rally unless he was provoked or intimidated the police officers present.

Following the march and throughout the month various protests and rallies are taking place over the weekend throughout the UK. For more information please check out www.manchesterstopthewar.org or for national events www.stopthewar.org.uk

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NB: We will be updating this page with front line pictures from the rally in the next couple of days