Rhiannon Rees wrtes of her experiences as a member of a CAAT delegation presenting an anti-arms trade petition at the office of the Prime Minister.
On Wednesday, 9 March, I went with Anne-Marie, Henry and Sarah from the CAAT office, and Azeldin El-Sharif, of the British-Libyan Solidarity Campaign, to present CAAT’s ‘This is not OK’ petition at 10 Downing Street.
Nearly 4,000 people had signed the petition and posted their comments to tell the Government that selling tear gas, firearms and crowd control ammunition to Bahrain and Libya, promoting arms exports to corrupt and repressive regimes and holding one of the world’s largest arms fairs in London next September are NOT OK.
The news overnight from Libya was not good. Gaddafi’s forces had used tanks and artillery to crush the revolutionaries in Zawiyah and his air force had bombed the rebel frontline. Azeldin told us he had managed to get through to his family that morning, but there was fierce fighting in Tripoli.
It was even more distressing to think that our Government had been subsidising the export of arms that were being used to crush the aspirations of the Libyan people for freedom.
Whitehall was crowded with tourists as we presented our passports and went through airport-style security into Downing Street, which was more spacious than I had imagined. As our allotted time approached to present the petition, Anne-Marie and Azeldin were being interviewed by TV reporters.
Ministerial cars glided in and MPs and civil servants came and went from No 10. Some looked at our T-shirts, with messages such as ‘David Cameron’s arms-selling tour: This is not OK’. One said ‘Well done!’ We approached the front door and handed the petition to one of the No 10 staff, as the policeman looked on.
As we returned to the crowds in Whitehall we met a group of Christian peace activists, their foreheads smeared with ash for Ash Wednesday and wearing messages in support of Bradley Manning. Our Government’s support for arms exports to the Middle East is certainly cause for repentance. I tried to explain to a Spanish teacher and her group of schoolchildren why we were there.
We returned to news of further heavy fighting in Zawiyah. The next day the International Committee of the Red Cross reported that Libya was in civil war and civilians were bearing the brunt of the violence. We must keep up the pressure on the Government to stop promoting arms exports to corrupt dictators, while there is increased public and media awareness of the issue.
The CAAT staff are working hard to keep the issue in the public eye and CAAT supporters around the country are collecting signatures, lobbying MPs and organising demonstrations. The CAAT petition is still open for signatures and comments- let’s double the numbers!