LONDON — Antiwar protesters sent a stark message to Prime Minister Tony Blair over the weekend: “How many more must die before you listen?”

Over 80,000 people took to the streets here Sept. 24 for the capital’s 12th Stop the War march, demanding troops out of Iraq now, no more attacks on civil liberties and an end to the racist targeting of Britain’s Muslim community under the guise of the “war on terror.”

Protesters defied new laws banning protests in Parliament Square, but police, noting the size of the crowd, made no attempt to enforce the new restrictions.

Before stepping off for the march, protesters heard from Peter Brierley, whose son was killed in Iraq. Brierley highlighted the hypocrisy of the Blair government, noting, “People are dying, supposedly to bring free speech to Iraq. But they are denying free speech in Parliament Square.”

Bolstered by feeder marches from east and south London, the colorful demonstration got under way, heading for a rally in Hyde Park. The route was soon a riot of banners and placards, composed of protesters representing many unions, peace groups and every conceivable race and religion.

A contingent of the fired Gate Gourmet workers, who recently challenged the anti-labor policies of British Airways, received warm applause as they joined the march.

The warm weather made for a good-natured spirit, although anger was apparent when marchers passed Downing Street, where bereaved mother Sue Smith — whose son Philip was killed in Iraq 10 weeks ago — handed in a petition calling for Britain’s withdrawal from Iraq. She also handed in a heartfelt letter to Tony Blair.

The letter, which she read out at the rally while flanked by other families torn apart by the war, urged Blair to try to understand the pain of losing a loved one and called on him to ensure that it does not happen again. Smith was reduced to tears as she read, “Please understand that I am one person talking for many. How many more must die before you listen?”

Stop the War Coalition convener Lindsey German told the crowd: “We are the conscience of the British people. We can either continue with this war to save Tony Blair’s face and save George Bush’s face or we can save lives and pull out now.” To those who claim that withdrawal would lead to “chaos,” she retorted: “I would like to know what their definition of chaos is and why it is different from the situation in Iraq at the moment.”

Despite massive and mounting opposition to the war, both Blair and Defense Secretary John Reid have refused to set a date for withdrawal.

Reid dismissed reports suggesting that a major pullout will start next May, repeating the stale mantra that Britain would stay until Iraqi security forces were ready to take over. He added that a handover could start next year. However, peace activists said this same promise was made last year and there are no signs of a pullout in the offing.

As a poll released over the weekend showed that the majority of Britons want the troops out, “New Labor” party spokesmen claimed that the antiwar movement was merely composed of “urban intellectuals,” accounting for just 4 per cent of votes.

Stop the War Coalition spokesman Andrew Burgin dismissed Reid’s alleged handover plans for next year as another in a long line of lies.

He also ridiculed the government’s “urban intellectual” claim, noting, “We know from numerous polls that a withdrawal is the settled will of the British people, which politicians are ignoring at their peril. The occupying forces have no future in Iraq and their withdrawal is essential for peace and security in the world.”

The coalition is holding an international peace conference in December to build pressure for an immediate pullout.

As Blair arrived at All Saints Church in Hove Sept. 25 with his wife Cherie for a special Labor Party conference service, he was challenged by protesters shouting: “How many babies died in Iraq last week, Mr. Blair?”

— from Morning Star ( Louise Nousratpour contributed to this article.