LONDON -- An estimated 300,000 anti-nuclear demonstrators jammed London Saturday, march organizers said, in what most participants admitted was a futile protest against the basing of U.S. cruise missiles on British soil.
'In the name of survival, these weapons systems must be stopped,' opposition Labor Party leader Neil Kinnock, the rally's main speaker, told the throng.
'If the cruises are brought in,' warned Msgr. Bruce Kent, a Roman Catholic priest and general secretary of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, Britain's largest anti-nuclear organization, 'we will shift our tactics and adopt obstructive measures, such as union actions.
'Some people will be ready to go to prison,' Kent said.
Kent seemed to imply a campaign of civil disobedience if there is no success in U.S.-Soviet arms talks in Geneva and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization begins deploying the cruise and Pershing-2 missiles as scheduled in December.
CND chairperson Joan Ruddock estimated the turnout at 300,000 people. Another CND spokesman said there were '400,000 to 500,000.'But police estimates were 'in excess of 100,000.'
Four hours after the march began, demonstrators were still leaving the starting point on the River Thames bank.
There were scattered counter-demonstrations, but the only incident was a brief scuffle between police and some 150 anarchists before the huge stage in Hyde Park. About a dozen people were arrested, some taken away in handcuffs.
'This is the most magnificent demonstration we have ever held,' said Ms. Ruddock in the circus atmosphere of the park, where clowns on stilts stalked through the throng.
The Guardian newspaper said Saturday the first cruise missiles would arrive in Britain within 10 days, by Nov. 1. The Ministry of Defense refused comment.
The prediction agitated hundreds of marchers, who came from every strand of British life. Communist organizations were out in force, but there were mothers with babes in arms and an elderly lady with a dog whose red jacket proclaimed 'Dogs against the bomb.'
It was the group's first major demonstration since Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher whipped the Labor Party and its unilaterial nuclear disarmament stand in her landslide victory in the June election.
Many marchers acknowledged the protest would not change Mrs. Thatcher's mind or halt deployment of the missiles.
'We can't physicallystop them, but we can prove to the government that this isn't a lost issue,' said one. Kent himself earlier said, 'Our chances of stopping the deployment are now less than even, but we've adopted the attitude of a long-distance runner.'
Scattered counter-demonstrations met the marchers along the route. There were no incidents or violence.
Rock and reggae bands played to marching 'punks' with pink hair, anarchists and overseas contingents, red-flag-waving Communist Party branches and a family whose placard read: '57 Newington Road against the Bomb.'