January 11, 2009
Posted: 2220 GMT
– By CNN's Lonzo Cook
CNN LONDON, Jan 10th - Frost lay heavy on the frozen ground of London’s Hyde Park as thousands gathered for the second national rally called to protest the Israeli military action in Gaza. Politicians, activists and celebrities addressed the crowd for an hour from stage; the speeches punctuated with chants of “Shame, shame, Israel” and “Allah Akbar.”
Singer Annie Lennox, noting the massive crowd said from the stage: “I wish we were doing something we could celebrate, but the one thing we can celebrate is that our voices will not be silenced until there is a complete and absolute end to the genocide.” Later a poem dedicated to the children of Gaza was read, with this final line: ”Land is for all- you have the right to be- not dead.”
After the speeches the crowd set off on a route down Bayswater, heading towards the Israeli Embassy. Despite the subzero temperatures and piercing wind, the crowd seemed in good spirits. For a while, we walked beside a group of drummers, beating out a rousing, South American cadence.
Outside the Russian Embassy in Notting Hill, many protesters started hurling sticks and debris- perhaps mistaking the Embassy for that of Israel.
Protest organizers had asked the crowd not to stop in front of the Israeli Embassy as they passed by, as that would cause “their brothers and sisters” behind them to halt, and asked them congragate further down the road instead.
But as the head of the march arrived, it became clear that most protesters would ignore the oraganizers’ request to move on. The crowd swelled, as more and more people stopped in front of the gates of the private road leading to the Embassy.
As the bottleneck grew, the chants intensified. From time to time, fireworks were set off. Shoes and sticks were hurled towards the gate.
My cameraman and I slowly pushed through the crowd where, close to the gates, stood a heavy concentration of adolescent Asian Muslims. The embers of burnt Israeli flags lay on the ground. A large cheer went up as a collection of balloons tied together, trailing the Palestinian flag, went up and over the gates towards the Israeli Embassy, before getting caught in a tree.
After another spell of objects being thrown toward the gates, a line of police with riot helmets and shields headed down on the South side of the barricades.
Then a group of protesters went up to the metal barricades on the opposite side of Kensington Road to the gates, shook them loose, and hurled one through the windows of a Starbucks Coffee shop. Police did not intervene in the melee. A short while afterwards youths jumped in through the broken window to vandalize the interior. The window of a neighbouring clothing store was also smashed, and the furcoat on a mannequin looted.
Police then pushed the crowds back as night fell. We walked further up Kensington Road toward Palace Gate, close the location of the final rally, to find that the large TV monitors were down, and the final rally over.
We did witness a final standoff between a line helmeted police with shieds and a disparate bunch of mostly adolescent protesters, close to the intersection of De Vere Gardens and Kensington Road.. A couple of them walking with wooden poles, apparently torn from large structures. The pieces of wood taller than themselves. With mounted policemen behind them, the police with riot helmets and shields, made a couple of charges to force the protesters back, no contact was made between the two groups. The youthful protesters scampering away before the police advance.
A couple of girls with covered faces sat down theatrically in the middle of Kensington road, chanting Free Free Palestine, and daring the police to attack them. They did not stay sitting long. A final advance of the police force the straggling protesters further down Kensington Road, or around the corner down De Vere Gardens. A couple of the policemen shouted “Its over, go home, keep moving away from here”. Some girls in their early twenties promised to return tomorrow to continue their protest.
This protest was over.
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