News Column

Anti-war protests: 'Nato? We will not stoop to their level and be violent'

September 5, 2014

Ewen MacAskill and Steven Morris

A colourful and disparate band of anti-war protesters marched on the venue of the Nato summit in Wales yesterday, getting their messages across, in the main, in a gentle, measured manner.

There had been concerns that the violent scenes that marred the last Nato summit, in Chicago 2012, would be repeated. But most of the participants in Newport marched peacefully to the metal barriers erected to prevent them from reaching the Celtic Manor resort, and co-operated gracefully with the police, who easily outnumbered them.

"We want to have our say. We don't like Nato and what it stands for," said Mel Bates, who was wearing CND badges and flowers in her hair. "We see these world leaders as aggressive and power-hungry. But we're not going to stoop to their level and be violent. That's not our way - it's not the Welsh way."

It helped that the police operation appeared thorough and sympathetic. Almost 10,000 officers have been drafted into South Wales from forces across the UK to counter the risk of the largest political gathering on British soil being attacked by terrorists or disrupted by demonstrators.

Kitted out in light blue caps, the police welcomed and helped the protesters, handing out bottles of water following the protesters' three-mile hike from Newport city centre to the ring of steel around Celtic Manor. There were shuttle buses arranged for those who could not face the walk back.

There was the odd outbreak of aggression. A few water bottles were thrown over the cordon and some masked demonstrators hammered at the metal cordon. But most people avoided confrontation.

Jane Callan, marching with her 10-year-old daughter, Josie, said: "I'm here because I think it's terrible they are spending billions on wars when other people are starving.It's a nice atmosphere."

Some people carried CND banners, others marched with Palestinian flags. Anarchists rubbed shoulders with hippies and communists. Dozens of local people joined the march as it made its way up the hill to the manor.

Members of Stop the War Coalition estimated that 700 people took part in the demonstration, and more were expected at another protest last night at Cardiff Castle, where a Nato dinner was being held. By contrast, on the other side of the fence, inside the summit, one of the more incongruous sights was that of British military hardware strewn among the greens and bunkers of the Celtic Manor golf resort.

Parked near one of the holes, close to a sign warning, "Danger: Golf in progress from right" were an armoured personnel carrier, a tank and fighter plane. Other military displays were scattered elsewhere, including some minesweepers in Cardiff.

A Ministry of Defence spokesman said that the displays were intended to showcase British defence capability as well as the country's defence industry.

One plane on display at the Celtic Manor was not one likely to make Vladimir Putin overly concerned, though. A structure masquerading as an F-35 stealth fighter, one of the most advanced and costly in the world, was in fact a life-size model. The Lockheed Martin F-35 stealth plane was supposed to have featured at the launch of a British aircraft carrier earlier this year and appeared at the Farnborough air show in July, but the entire fleet was grounded by the US defence department after a fire broke out in an engine on 23 June.

The decision to put the hardware on display was taken by the MoD rather than Nato. The MoD spokesman said that Britain, as the host nation for the summit, was entitled to promote its defence industry there.

Other items on show in the Celtic Manor grounds include missiles, equipment designed to detonate mines, and a simulated field hospital, with medical staff operating on a dummy with gruesomely realistic wounds.

Leaders and their delegations are unlikely to see many of the displays, which seem designed primarily for the hundreds of journalists who are attending the summit - though they might see one today, when 22 British planes, led by a Typhoon, are scheduled to fly in formation over Newport and Cardiff.

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Source: Guardian (UK)

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