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Tuesday, August 02, 2005 

Some things never change.

It's good to know that even though there's supposedly a huge terrorist threat to the country right now, with police being deployed to every major underground and railway station in London, there was still a few around to arrest some peaceful protestors for daring to exercise their rights:

Five anti-war activists demonstrating against a new ban on unauthorised protests in the vicinity of parliament were arrested yesterday as the police moved to uphold the controversial new law.

The ban on spontaneous protests within half-a-mile of Westminster which have not been cleared by police came into force at midnight on Sunday.

No protest will be lawful unless prior police approval has been sought in writing and granted at least 24 hours before the start of the demonstration. One of those present at yesterday's demonstration was Lauren Booth, the sister of Cherie Blair.

"This is all about silencing critics of the war in Iraq and ID cards and denying people the right to free speech," she said. "If you heard on television that someone in another country was banned from gathering near a government building to stage a legitimate protest you would probably think thank goodness that kind of thing doesn't happen in this country," she said.

Police initially tried to act in a low-key way to prevent the largely symbolic protest. But, faced with the possibility that the new law would be shown to be unenforceable on its first day, they eventually moved in against a group of about 50 people wearing black gags to symbolise the "infringement" of their right to protest. The arrests occurred as Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour MP for Islington North, was speaking to the gathering.

The police took photographs of many of the protesters and handed out leaflets warning they were involved in an unauthorised protest.

Lindsey German, convener of the Stop the War Coalition and one of the protest organisers, said the new law meant police could now decide who was allowed to demonstrate, which was "totally unacceptable".

The Home Office says that the new laws simply put static protests on the same footing as processions, for which police also need to be notified.

It's reassuring to know that the police are there to protect us from such extremists.

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