Suppressing Dissent, Again

Protesters blocked at Menwith Hill US War base
By Tom Mellen, Jul 5, 2007, 11:53

British police barred hundreds of anti-war activists and democracy campaigners from completing their annual march around the US military base at Menwith Hill for the first time in 20 years on Wednesday.

The Campaign for the Accountability of American Bases (CAAB) has organised a rally around the perimeter of the base, which is widely believed to play a key role in the shady Anglo-US ECHELON domestic surveillance programme, every US Independence Day for two decades.

But a cordon was put up to prevent protesters, who included socialist comedian Mark Steel and writer Alan Bennett, from completing this year’s demonstration.

Veteran CAAB campaigner Lindis Percy explained that the protest aims to highlight the crucial role that Menwith Hill plays in orchestrating wars of aggression.

“Menwith Hill epitomises all that is wrong in the unhealthy, dependent and moribund relationship between the US and British governments,” Ms Percy said.

“The base is crucial to the crazy and dangerous US missile defence programme. It is key to the illegal war in Iraq and key to the mess of Afghanistan.”

She charged that the base, which is the largest intelligence-gathering and surveillance base outside the US, monitors millions of email and telephone communications.

“Yet it is totally unaccountable to the British electorate. MPs have repeatedly asked questions about the base, only to face a wall of silence,” Ms Percy said.

Yorkshire CND activist Dave Webb reported that police had arbitrarily defined the demonstration as a “procession,” suggesting that this had been done so as to make it “more politically acceptable to stop us asserting our rights.”

Around 250 peaceful demonstrators faced around 100 police, with at least four mounted officers present.

Several arrests were made under clause 12 of the 2005 anti-terror Bill, which outlaws trespassing on nuclear sites.

Witnesses reported that one man was hauled off for wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with a slogan condemning the Bill.

Protesters presented Mr Steel, who was celebrating his birthday, with a cake and beer.

He described the rally as “jolly,” but he poured scorn on the heavy-handed police presence.

“I thought they were paparazzi because they were sticking their cameras in everyone’s faces,” he said.

Mr Webb added that police had also filmed protesters’ cars “in order to scare people into not taking part.”

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