Call To Arms: Fighting the world's largest arms fair
For The Wharf's gallery of the arms fair protests, click here
In a two-part online report, The Wharf talks to the people inside and outside the world's largest arms fair.
Part one looks at the protest movement against Excel's DSEi defence show, and how activists have switched targets in a bid to challenge the arms industry.
For four days, arms traders and anti-war campaigners will be separated by just a few hundred yards in Royal Docks.
Actually, that's technically not true. They'll actually be separated by security gates, several ID checkers, water and land-based police, a winding registration queue and a chasm of opinion so cast that you could lose a fleet in it.
DSEi has been at the centre of a moth swarm of outrage and protest for several years now. If it returns as expected in 2011, placards will once again be raised within sight of the event.
It's not a question of compromise. Protesters will not go away if organisers reduce their carbon emissions, or ban a single company from the building.
This is a pitched battle between those who see this industry as a living, and those who see only death.
Alan Morinan is the christian network co-ordinator for Campaign Against Arms Trade, a protest organisation which has railed against the fair for several years.
His role was initially to agitate against churches who invested in the arms trade, but he claims several have since pulled out because "it doesn't make them that much money".
He said: "It's vitally important that we keep protesting.
"We were out here last night for a multi-faith candlelit vigil for the victims of the arms trade, including the ones that die many years later from land mine injuries."
The movement has had several false dawns in the last few years. Gordon Brown scrapped the Defence Export Services Organisation soon after becoming Prime Minister in 2007, but defence exports were then shifted to the UK Trade and Investment Defence and Security Organisation. DSEi organiser Reed Elsevier then announced its intention to sell up following pressure from doctors and activists, only for the mantle to pass to Clarion Events last year.
Supporters point to the defence industry as a vital source of income and jobs in a time in which other areas are struggling with recession. Mr Morinan is not convinced.
He said: "The organisers are pushing the defence aspect this year because they're concerned about their image.
The proportion of money given to the DSO, including staff salaries, is far greater than all of the other areas of the UKTI put together. The people employed there are skilled workers, and with a bit of forward planning they can be transferred to making something safe.
"CAAT has a step programme ending with abolition of the arms trade. But it's important to end the Government's support first."
Even protesters admit that an end to the arms trade "isn't going to happen overnight", and more than one suspects it's unlikely to happen at all. This doesn't mean everyone's off to recycle their placards and plop down in front of the X Factor.
In fact, anti-arms activists are adapting their approach, jabbing at slightly different targets to find a soft spot, such as UKTI and arms companies themselves. Previous owner Reed Elsevier could be pressured in shareholder meetings and through the company's titles such as The Lancet. Representatives from the group say that Clarion's structure makes it a much tougher nut to crack, but CAAT has instead staged actions at the other shows in its diverse portfolio.
Last November, protesters turned up at the Spirit of Christmas fair dressed as Santa and his elves, armed with fake missiles and automatic weapons. Letters were also sent to Baby Show organisers in February informing them of Clarion's other earners, resulting in the quick exits of UNICEF and show sponsor Bounty.
For the big show in September, protesters generally cluster at the foot of the Custom House DLR, craning over the lines of police to catch a glimpse of military delegates.
In 2007, protest group The Space Hijackers pulled a neat piece of headline-grabbing misdirection on police by announcing they'd snapped up a tank and were planning to roll it to Royal Docks. While police were busy watching one armoured vehicle in a pen in East London, a second piece of heavy weaponry trundled over to the Excel car park to be flogged off for 50 bucks in a fake auction.
The group then had to put a call out for extra donations to cover the cost.
This year's protests are targeting those that enable the fair to go ahead. CAAT bussed protesters over to the UKTI DSO offices in Westminster in a Routemaster bearing anti-arms slogans, while direct action organisation Disarm DSEi urged supporters to block weapons being shipped to the fair itself, and staged a protest against banks and fair funders in the City on Tuesday.
With Excel no longer the centre of attention this year, crowds were much smaller and less vocal on the opening day. Up to 20 people were arrested last year for breach of the peace, while only two arrests were made on Tuesday for "criminal damage" at AXA and BT's headquarters in Newgate Street.
This morning, London Catholic Workers Father Martin Newell and Katrina Alton were picked up by police for pouring red paint on a DSEi sign and kneeling in prayer next to a banner reading "Forgive Them Father; They Know Not What They Do". Father Newell was also arrested for dumping red paint at Custom House DLR station at DSEi 2007.
Police presence at this year's Excel protest was light and restrained, with one officer wandering over to introduce himself to protesters at 10.30am.
Leaning against his placard in an unhassled throng, Alun Morinan said: "We've had problems in the past but there are several countries where these sort of protests can't happen. Some of them have been invited here today."
As noon approached, protests remained calm at Excel. A small group of women were working through a hymn sheet under a parasol, while others drew honks from passing motorists with anti-arms banners. On the zebra crossing, a giant pigeon in a bowler hat was waddling across the road brandishing a gun.
A knot of photographers and TV crews tightened around a man dressed in a red-flecked T-shirt, shackled with fake chains. Daniel Viesnik was staging a "100-hour famine for victims of the arms trade".
Nothing but water will pass his lips from Sunday to Friday, when the arms fair closes. In the meantime, he will confront several agencies which he feels contribute to the spread of the arms trade, such as the Ministry of Defence and the UKTI Defence and Security Organisation. He will also stand outside Buckingham Palace as a challenge to UKTI special representative Prince Andrew.
He said: "I wanted to make a statement about the victims of the arms trade, and also to remind people that the arms industry encourages governments to spend money which could be used to feed and clothe their people and give them an education.
"I'm a non-violent direct action activist. Certainly, people who support the issue should write letters to their ministers and MPs but there also needs to be more radical but peaceful action to drive the message home."
The group was set to pile into the buses to Westminster at about 12.30pm, but I'd be going in a different direction. I'd accepted the UKTI DSO's invitation to see inside the fair that had attracted 53 delegates from around the world.
It was a hot day to be wandering about, but it was only a few hundred yards away, after all...
Continue to Part Two: Inside The War Room