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Families of Slain Iraq Soldiers Protest in Britain


The decision by Tony Blair to send British troops to Iraq was the most controversial decision in his ten years as prime minister. The move spurred major protests and resulted in divisions in his Labor party.

As former British Prime Minister Tony Blair appears before an inquiry into the war in Iraq, dozens of demonstrators gathered outside in a public display of anger over Britain's role in the war. Chants of "war criminal" echoed through London's streets, where in 2003 an estimated one million people gathered to protest British military action in Iraq.

As Mr. Blair gave evidence to the Iraq Inquiry, protesters outside chanted a slogan which has often rung through London's streets over the past seven years - "Tony Blair, War Criminal".

Men and women shouted and held placards, while a man wearing a mask of Mr. Blair's face, his hands covered in fake blood, stood behind a makeshift police cell.

Many of the protesters here told VOA that they want to see the former British prime minister tried as a war criminal for his role in what they say is an illegal war.

Family members of some of the 179 British soldiers killed in Iraq joined the protest.

Pamela Crawford, who lost her brother Gordon in 2004, says it's Tony Blair who's responsible for the lives lost in Iraq. "It was his fault that we were there - he had the final decision, so it all lies with him," said Crawford.

She says she hopes Mr. Blair will face legal action if the war is found by the inquiry to have been illegal.

"If it gets proven that we shouldn't have gone in then he should have to pay, he should be prosecuted or something, not just left to walk away," said Crawford.

Ide Marshane, from South Africa, said he was at the protest as an observer - but said it's important that questions are asked of Tony Blair about why Britain took military action in Iraq.

"You know he has been responsible for lots of things - the war itself, committing a country to war where many soldiers have been maimed, injured and died, and I think it's a serious matter," said Marshane.

The police were out in heavy force in preparation for a protest that activists had predicted might attract thousands of demonstrators.

Instead, there were around 200 people here - a number that had diminished by the afternoon.

It was a far cry from a protest in 2003 when up to hundreds of thousands poured into London's streets to demonstrate against the war.

Pat Aerosmith, a peace protester since 1958, said it's preventative actions that garner the most popular support.

"Here we are really making a kind of protest about what is after the event," said Aerosmith. "I am primarily concerned with the sort of actions where you're saying we are trying to stop something happening."

But for Jennifer Bromlick, who's part of Stop the War Coalition and helped to organize this protest, the very existence of the Iraq Inquiry demonstrates the strong public opinion in Britain against the war.

"I mean even though they are not sitting here marching on the streets in millions, the public sentiment pushed for the inquiry," she said.

The decision by Tony Blair to send British troops to Iraq was the most controversial decision in his ten years as prime minister. The move spurred major protests and resulted in divisions in his Labor party.

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