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Arms fair opens in London amid controversy

A new poll shows most of the British public oppose selling weapons to the despotic regimes at the show, which has also denied access to two journalists

ONE of the world’s largest arms fairs opened in London yesterday, but two journalists were denied access and a new poll showed that most of the public oppose selling weapons to the despotic regimes eager to buy them.

The ExCeL exhibition centre in London’s Docklands was packed with hundreds of arms dealers and military personnel who gathered for the biennial Defence and Security Equipment International (DSEI).

Speakers included Tory Minister for Defence Procurement Ann-Marie Trevelyan and shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry’s brother-in-law Lieutenant General Richard Nugee.

Israeli arms company Elbit Systems celebrated the news that its British subsidiary Ferranti Technologies had won a £30.8 million contract to supply fire-safety training to the Ministry of Defence (MoD).

Elbit Systems UK chief executive Martin Fausset said his company was delighted by the deal ,which he described as a “significant milestone … strengthening our portfolio in this key market.”

Event organisers boasted that the “the exhibition floor will feature industry giants and household names, including BAE Systems, Babcock International, General Dynamics, Lockheed Martin, Saab, Leonardo and Thales” as well as Boeing and Airbus.

There were four military helicopters on display and eight warships moored in the dock outside, including Royal Navy frigate HMS Argyll.

The event, which receives official backing from several Whitehall departments, is sponsored by the United Arab Emirates. Delegates from other repressive Gulf monarchies such as Saudi Arabia and Bahrain are also expected to attend, and visitors’ lanyards were sponsored by Turkey.

Leading event director Grant Burgham said: “DSEI is distinguished by the full backing it receives from the UK government and military VIPs, and I look forward to welcoming participants from around the globe to this pivotal and unique event.”

Despite the support from Whitehall, two British journalists were denied press passes: Private Eye’s Solomon Hughes and Ian Cobain of Middle East Eye. Mr Cobain said the ban was “shameful” and “cowardly.”

It is being challenged by the National Union of Journalists, while Index on Censorship issued a press-freedom alert to the Council of Europe.

DSEI has been hit by rolling protests in the run-up to its opening, with more than 100 demonstrators arrested as they tried to stop weapons arriving.

New polling by Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) and Opinium LLP taken among thousands of people found that 70 per cent oppose the promotion of arms sales to human rights-abusing regimes.

Arms exports to Saudi Arabia, the largest buyer of British weaponry, are specifically opposed by a majority of 64 per cent — including 58 per cent of Conservative voters.

CAAT’s Andrew Smith said: “Particularly when there is an election on the horizon, it’s time for the politicians to listen to the people and finally stop putting arms company profits ahead of human rights.”

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