Protests hit London as Libyan arms dealers arrive

By Liz Stephens.

Anti-war protests are taking place in London today as a controversial arms fair gets underway.

The Defence Systems and Equipment International (DSEi) exhibition began at the ExCel centre in the Docklands today. Protests took place at ExCel, in the City and also in Westminster.

The biannual event – which is flagged as the world’s largest fully integrated defence and security exhibition – will attract arms dealers and technology and military experts from across the world.

Sketch: DSEi arms fair

However, this year’s event promises to be even more sensitive than usual with the expected presence of the largest contingent of Libyan arms dealers ever to visit the UK.

The news comes just weeks after the controversial release of the Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset al-Megrahi.

Of the 53 countries invited by UK Trade and Investment’s Defence and Security Organisation (UKTI DSO) to attend the event, several have been blacklisted by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch for human rights violations.

However, the event claims that conventional weapons of torture and landmines will not be on display and all exhibits will comply with UK law and the provisions of the Oslo Accord.

“Exhibitors promoting or exhibiting prohibited items, either overtly or covertly during the exhibition, will be in breach of their contract with the organisers and will forfeit their right to exhibit at DSEi,” say organisers Clarion Defence and Security.
Protests took place at a number of locations, although the event itself was surrounded by a “ring of steel” with only accredited visitors, exhibitors and press allowed within a strict distance of the ExCel centre.

The Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) drove several Routemaster buses from the Docklands to the headquarters of UKTI DSO in protest against the event.

CAAT spokesperson Sarah Waldron said: “DSEi is perhaps the starkest demonstration of what’s wrong with the government’s support for the arms trade. The government will be inviting human rights abusers, countries engaged in conflict and those with urgent development needs to shop for weapons.

“Huge profits will be made by arms companies, but the costs are borne by the UK taxpayer, and millions of people whose lives are blighted by the arms trade.”

Meanwhile, activist organisation ‘Disarm DSEi’ protested outside several companies in the City of London, throwing shoes and leaving Post-It note messages of protest.

Gordon Brown was forced into a 180 degree policy change yesterday following a weekend of widespread criticism over his refusal to offer government support to the families of victims of the IRA in their case for compensation against the Libyan government.

Libya has been accused of arming the IRA and other terrorist organisations during the 1980s and 90s.