Protesters gather as controversial arms fair begins in Liverpool

Activists convened on the waterfront as AOC Europe’s military technology conference got underway in the city on Tuesday.

Hundreds of demonstrators have gathered in Liverpool to protest against an arms conference taking place in the city.

Merseyside Police said they have introduced a dispersal zone on Liverpool Waterfront in response to reports of plans to commit criminal damage in the area.

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The Association of Old Crows (AOC) Europe annual weapons conference is taking place at the ACC Exhibition Centre Liverpool on 12-13 October but has met with an increasing level of resistance.

Protesters met before sunrise on Tuesday, assembling at Wapping to rally against the arms fair.

After some music and several speeches, the crowd made their way to Kings Dock where delegates were arriving for the show.

Political opposition to arms fair

Councillor Tom Crone, leader of the Liverpool Green Party joined the protestors to offer his support.

Merseyside MPs have called for the event to be cancelled, including Liverpool West Derby MP Ian Byrne, who submitted an early day motion to parliament saying “the planned arms fair should not take place in our great city”.

In September, former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and actress Maxine Peake joined thousands of protestors in Liverpool who are against the event taking place.

Mayor of Liverpool Joanne Anderson released a statement about today’s protest and said: “I support the right of people to protest against the arms fair.

“I have received clarification that the dispersal zone does not prevent people from gathering at the agreed protest point to voice their objections.

“I am a pacifist and do not support this event but, as I have said previously, neither I nor Liverpool City Council have the power to stop it.”

Reaction to protests

Merseyside Police said they have arrested six people in connection with the AOC Europe event and added they would ‘not tolerate acts of criminality and those who engage in such acts will be dealt with robustly’.

Chair of the Stop The Liverpool Arms Fair campaign, Lawrence Brown, told LiverpoolWorld: “Today we wanted to make the point that the people of Liverpool are not prepared to stand by and see this happening in our city without using our voice to say something about it. Hopefully events like this will not happen in the future.”

A spokesperson for Exhibition Centre Liverpool said: “The ACC Liverpool Group respects the right to lawful protest, demonstration, free speech and freedom of expression provided it is within the constraints of the law.

“During the live event dates of AOC Europe, Merseyside Police have identified a site at Gower Street for members of the public who wish to protest against the event.

“We will continue to liaise with the organisers of AOC Europe, Merseyside Police and Liverpool City Council to facilitate protests provided they are planned and organised via the correct and lawful processes.”

A spokesperson for AOC Europe said: “AOC Europe serves only the legitimate defence and security industry, which is the most highly and tightly regulated in the world. We work in close partnership with the UK Government, and all visitors to our events are vetted and undergo the strictest scrutiny before being allowed access.

“Exhibitors are contractually required to ensure that equipment, services, promotional material, documentation and anything else on display and online complies with domestic and international law. If any companies are found to be exhibiting anything that contravenes this policy, then robust and appropriate action is taken. We respect the right to lawful protest.”