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Pro-Palestinian march draws hundreds of thousands in London to call for cease-fire

Protesters march in central London on Saturday, calling for a cease-fire in the conflict between Israel and Hamas.
Henry Nicholls
AFP via Getty Images
Protesters march in central London on Saturday, calling for a cease-fire in the conflict between Israel and Hamas.

LONDON — Hundreds of thousands of people marched in London on Saturday calling for a cease-fire in Gaza, in what was the largest pro-Palestinian rally in the city since the Israel-Hamas conflict began a month ago.

London's Metropolitan Police put the number of protesters at over 300,000, while organizers say it could also have been one of the largest protests in British political history, suggesting 800,000 people took part in the march.

Saturday's rally came amid a growing political row over British Home Secretary Suella Braverman's suggestion that London's police had been biased in their handling of pro-Palestinian protests and her labeling of the protests as "hate marches."

Protesters marched overwhelmingly peacefully through the city, meeting at London's Hyde Park and walking to the U.S. Embassy. The Met police reported "no issues''with the protest itself, saying that it had stuck to the prescribed route. The route for Saturday's march, which coincided with Armistice Day, wasintentionally drawn up by protest organizers to avoid London's war memorials such as the Cenotaph, where two minutes of silence were held to commemorate the U.K. war dead an hour before the march began.

London's police did, however, report incidents of far-right violence in the city, with about 100 counterprotesters arrested.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan blamed the far-right violence on the home secretary's language. Scotland's leader Humza Yousaf called for the home secretary to resign, saying the far-right had been "emboldened" by her.

The Met Police said Saturday evening that they had detained a breakaway group of 150 pro-Palestinian protesters, sometime after the main demonstration had ended.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said Saturday evening that he condemned "the violent scenes we have seen from far-right groups and Hamas sympathizers. All criminality must be met with the full and swift force of the law."

Protesters show placards during a pro-Palestinian protest in London on Saturday.
Alberto Pezzali / AP
Protesters show placards during a pro-Palestinian protest in London on Saturday.

The pro-Palestinian march drew a diverse crowd, with many families and children taking part.

Amanda Cattle, 60, told NPR she thought it was all the more important to march for a cease-fire on Armistice Day. "My grandfather was a soldier through the whole of the First World War. I always wear a poppy and I always commemorate, but what I really think we should be commemorating is trying to find peace and trying to stop the genocide of the Palestinians which the Israeli government is perpetrating," she said. "It's horrific."

Protesters made their way from all around the country for the march.

According to reports in the British media, the Stop the War Coalition, one of the organizers of Saturday's event, said coach companies across the country reported that all their vehicles were fully booked with waiting lists in some areas.

Dorothy Moss, 71, traveled from Leeds, in the north of England, to take part.

"My father was a Jewish refugee, my great uncle was killed in Auschwitz," she told NPR.

"What is happening in Israel against the Palestinians is currently at a level of genocide. People of Jewish background should know what genocide is," she said. "We've had experience in our families. It needs to stop, now."

Israel contends that it is targeting Hamas, not the Palestinian people. Israel's attacks on Gaza have killed more than 11,000 people, according to Gaza health officials. It comes after Hamas militants attacked Israel on Oct. 7, killing some 1,200 people.

Yasmin Hussein has made the two-hour journey from Bedfordshire, in the east of England, every weekend to attend the pro-Palestinian marches in London. "That's the least we can do for the Palestinian people," she told NPR.

Hussein was tearful as she explained why she was there. "I'm here for the people of Palestine, for the children of Palestine, for the innocent people of Palestine. They are human beings, they have not asked for this," she said. "Just stop, please."

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Fatima Al-Kassab
[Copyright 2024 NPR]