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showdown with Tony Blair

Anti-war activists set for
showdown with Tony Blair

By Shyam Bhatia in London
February 14, 2003 11:02 IST
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The only Indian whose name appears in a published  list of more than 300 London luminaries opposed to the war against Iraq says he has a passion to change the world 'by creating a better world' for everyone.

Delhi-born Vijay Mehta, a 62-year-old garments trader from Aldgate in London, is the son of a Delhi barrister, who has found the time and energy to join the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) and become its London branch secretary.

A passionate peace activist, he says he will participate in this Saturday's public demonstration in London to protest against the US government's proposed military action against Iraq.

"The feeling is running strong," Mehta told "Some people who have not gone for a march for the last 20-30 years, or youngsters who feel very passionately, will for the first time participate in the march.”

"There will be lots and lots of people and thousands of stewards to guide them. Most Indians are more involved in earning their bread and looking after materialistic things. But on this issue, I have a passion… to change the world or create a better world."

On Thursday, Mehta's name appeared alongside a galaxy of famous names from the worlds of stage, screen and music that have also declared their opposition to the war.

They include actress Joanna Lumley, composer Andrew Lloyd Webber and singer Elton John.

Their petition, published in leading newspapers, could attract even more protesters to Saturday's anti-war rally in Hyde Park.

Organisers estimate the number of people attending the 'Stop the War' demonstration could reach 'the high hundreds of thousands' - a sharp rise from the 500,000 predicted last week.

Although wary of such predictions, London's Metropolitan police are preparing contingency plans, including roadblocks and shutting railway stations outside London if crowds coming into the capital approach danger levels.

Officers from Scotland Yard will monitor the situation, via closed-circuit television cameras, and restrict or speed up the flow of marchers at key points to ensure safety.

Others signing the petition include Dame Judi Dench, Dustin Hoffman, Jeremy Irons, Jonathan Pryce, Emma Thompson and Sir Ian McKellen. Singers Damon Albarn, Jarvis Cocker, Sir Bob Geldof and Sting are backing the campaign along with artists Tracey Emin and Damien Hirst.

Comedian Harry Enfield, TV presenter Mariella Frostrup, authors Nick Hornby and Jeanette Winterson, theatre directors Nicholas Hytner and Richard Eyre, and Chelsea footballer Graeme Le Saux also support the campaign.

Signatory Mike Leigh, director of Secrets And Lies and Topsy Turvy, said: "I am totally opposed to this lunacy, which will undoubtedly escalate into unimaginable disaster."

Remains of the Day author Kazuo Ishiguro said: "We should go to war only when convinced it's the last, least evil option. We've been offered only vague, alarmist hypotheses. Saddam must be disarmed but it's absurd to claim all other options have been exhausted."

A high attendance, specially by people who have never attended a political demonstration before, would increase pressure on British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who is already under attack from many Labour MPs and trade union leaders who oppose the government's policy of consistent support for the United States.

Opinion polls show little public appetite for joining an American-led attack on Iraq, although some of the opposition would disappear if the United Nations Security Council approved a second resolution giving explicit authorisation for war.

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