UK Politics

Jeremy Corbyn speech disrupted by Syria protesters

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Media captionJeremy Corbyn is interrupted by protesters

Human rights campaigners have disrupted a Jeremy Corbyn speech, in protest at Labour's response to the war in Syria.

They stood in front of the Labour leader, and held up posters calling for aid drops and sanctions against Russia, as he began a speech on human rights.

Peter Tatchell, who led the protest, said Mr Corbyn had not spoken out enough to demand the aid.

But Mr Corbyn said Labour believed the war in Syria should end and aid should be given to people in war-torn Aleppo.

Mr Tatchell told the event in London: "What's happening in Aleppo is a modern-day Guernica.

"We expect the leader of the Labour Party to speak up and demand a vote in Parliament on UK aid drops."

Mr Corbyn was on stage with shadow attorney general Baroness Chakrabarti, shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry, shadow home secretary Diane Abbott and shadow diversity minister Dawn Butler when the demonstration happened.

Baroness Chakrabarti could be heard advising the Labour leader "just let them do this".

Mr Corbyn then consulted Ms Thornberry, asking: "When did we condemn the bombing?".

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Image caption Peter Tatchell, who was leading the protest, said Jeremy Corbyn had not spoken out enough to demand the aid.

The Labour leader told the audience: "Emily Thornberry... has made it absolutely clear that we do think there should be aid given to people in Aleppo, we do think the bombing should end, we do think there should be a ceasefire, we do think there should be a political solution, we do think the war should end in Syria."

Mr Tatchell later told the BBC the protest had been "a last, desperate measure" to get Labour to "spell out concrete proposals".

"We are saying that the Labour Party... ought to bring forward in Parliament the demand for a vote, a vote this week, on UK humanitarian aid drops to besieged civilians," he said.

"We didn't get that assurance from Jeremy today... I was surprised, that's a big disappointment."

Image caption The protesters held up posters calling for aid drops and sanctions against Russia

The main conflict in Syria pits the government of President Bashar al-Assad - assisted by Russian air power - against rebels backed by Turkey, Gulf states and the US.

One key battleground is Aleppo, which was once Syria's commercial and industrial hub before the uprising against President Assad began in 2011.

It has been divided in roughly two between pro-government and rebel forces since mid-2012, but in the past year, Syrian troops have broken the deadlock with the help of Iranian-backed militias and Russian air strikes.

What is happening there prompted Mr Tatchell's reference to the Spanish town of Guernica, which was bombed and virtually destroyed in 1937, during the country's civil war.

'Back our call'

In his speech, made on International Human Rights Day, Mr Corbyn said he would put women's rights at the heart of government.

"Gender injustice is a worldwide abuse of human rights on a colossal scale, it is millennial in duration and global in reach," he said.

"We owe it to our mothers and sisters, and especially our daughters, to do much more with greater urgency."

On Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson's comments, in which he accused Saudi Arabia of engaging in "proxy wars" in its region, Mr Corbyn said Mr Johnson had "blurted out the reality".

He said: "When the foreign secretary gets home, will he at last be brave enough to back our call to halt arms sales to Saudi Arabia, weapons that are being used to bombard civilian areas and carry out a violation of human rights in Yemen, while a genuinely independent United Nations inquiry is held?"

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