POLICE were accused of being “arrest-happy” yesterday after seizing at least eight Quakers at a peaceful protest against the world’s biggest arms fair in London.
Faith and peace activists blocked a road for at least four hours to prevent vans carrying weapons from entering the Defence and Security Equipment International (DSEI) arms fair at the Excel Centre.
The day was the second in a week of action which aims to shut down the weapons fest before it starts next Tuesday.
Quakers spokesman Sam Walton confirmed that eight Quakers were arrested while attempting to stop the vans.
He said: “Britain surely cannot promote peace and democracy, and London cannot be a city of peace, if it is where repression and torture begin and if it is where the seeds of war are sown.”
Pacifist organisation Peace Pledge Union also reported that officers had threatened to arrest 98-year-old Margaret Slee for blocking the road in her wheelchair.
Campaign Against Arms Trade spokesman Andrew Smith told the Star: “The policing has been very heavy, with a ridiculously large presence and scores of people being arrested for peaceful protest.
“The arms being sold at DSEI could be used in terrible crimes for years to come, yet the police are more focused on arresting campaigners while protecting the interests of arms companies and human rights abusing regimes.”
Yesterday’s protest also saw activists using abseiling equipment to hang from a bridge and priests from different dominations hold a communion in their bids to stop arms reaching the centre.
The government-backed DSEI arms fair takes place in secret behind security fences and is subsidised by the British taxpayer.
The official list of attendees will not be made public until closer to the opening of the arms fair, however previously invited countries include human rights abusers Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Turkey.
Arrests were also made on Monday during demonstrations against the sale of weapons to Israel, which activists say are used against Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.
In the evening, CAAT’s Kat Hobbs told protesters gathered for a gig that seven people had been arrested, including Enid Gordon, a 70-year-old Methodist minister from North Shields.
And a source accused the police of racism after a press photographer covering the demonstration was arrested.
“He was the only black photographer present and the only photographer that was arrested, despite others doing exactly the same thing,” the source said.