Migrants’ rights activists blockaded London’s Excel Centre yesterday as goods were brought in ahead of an international arms fair set to take place next week.
The Defence and Security Equipment International 2017 (DSEI) event is one of the world’s biggest arms fairs, visited by some of the world’s most despotic regimes.
Opponents are mounting daily blockades, halting and delaying the delivery of weapons to be put on show.
The activists used theatre, dance and “direct action picnics” to prevent deliveries as they called for “free movement for people, not weapons.”
Billboards and London Underground trains were targeted with posters and adverts: “Arms Dealers Not Welcome in London.”
A leaked photograph from inside the exhibition centre showed a tank painted with the Union Jack. Campaigners said arms dealers were “flying the flag, exporting death.”
There were complaints of an “increasingly aggressive response” from the Metropolitan police to the protests, with reports of some officers not wearing their regulation ID epaulettes.
Further arrests were made yesterday as activists lay underneath the wheels of lorries and even “surfed” on top of vehicles.
Police have been criticised for their approach over the last four days of action amid accusations they have been “arrest happy” — a total of 63 people are reported to have been detained so far, including eight Quakers who were held on Tuesday.
A speaker from the All African Women’s Group told the protesters: ““Africa is full of wealth and resources and the wars are there to get at that.”
The group said in a statement that they were protesting because they had been “imprisoned, raped, starved” and seen their children killed or kidnapped under dictatorships armed by Western governments and corporations.
It said that two-thirds of the women in the organisation have been detained at Yarl’s Wood where they have faced sexist, racist abuse — including sexual assault — by G4S and Serco guards.
Global Justice Now representative Kahra Wayland-Larty said: “As Theresa May’s government prepares to roll out the red carpet for arms dealers, there is an increasingly hostile environment for migrants and refugees on the streets of Britain.”
She said that the weapons due to be showcased will not face border controls but people fleeing for their safety will face violence and persecution at militarised borders.
Yesterday’s protests were part of a week of action called by Stop the Arms Fair against the DSEI arms fair.