Tuesday, Feb 25, 2003
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By Hasan Suroor
More such protests at other British-U.S. facilities are not ruled out in coming weeks.
In Sunday's incident, which climaxed a series of peace protests across Britain, about 450 people stormed the main gate of the heavily-guarded RAF Fairford complex and pulled it open, taking the police by surprise. The perimeter fence was torn down and some of the protesters even managed to enter the base but were quickly captured after a scuffle with securitymen. Ten persons were arrested.
Organisers said they believed the base would be used by the U.S. B2 stealth bombers in the event of a war with Iraq. Television pictures of the protesters climbing over the fence and breaking into the air base must have embarrassed the Government, which is desperately trying to make a "moral" case for a war.
The protest came as Labour MPs prepared to challenge the Prime Minister, Tony Blair's Iraq policy in the Commons and a senior Cabinet Minister, Clare Short, said she was having "sleepless nights" over the prospects of a war. Mr. Blair, who is under pressure not to plunge the country into a military conflict without Parliament's approval, is expected to face some tough questions from his own MPs when the Commons votes on a motion on Iraq on Wednesday.
The anti-war MPs warned against a backbench "revolt" and said up to 150 MPs could vote against Mr. Blair's policy. "I think we will get quite a good vote and that will show that the House is completely divided. It is unprecedented to send our servicemen and women into military action when we're not being invaded or threatened,'' a senior Labour MP, Alice Mahon, said.
Another Labour MP and former Defence Minister, Peter Kilfoyle, described the coming vote as "make-up-your-mind time" and accused Mr. Blair of being engaged in a "drive for war".
He said he would demand an amendment to the Government motion to say that the case for war was not proven.
The Government motion will not mention military action and simply talk about disarming Iraq through the U.N.
Meanwhile, the Defence Secretary, Geoff Hoon, told British troops in the Gulf to be ready for war, which he blamed squarely on Iraq. "What is now abundantly clear is that the choice of what happens next rests in Baghdad. We must... send a clear message to Saddam Hussein: You cannot win, you can only comply and disarm or be defeated the choice is yours," he said.
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