The Guardian 15 June, 2005

Protesters hold up tanks, soldiers

Convoys of tanks, personnel carriers and other military equipment as well as coachloads of soldiers were held up for several hours by determined peace campaigners on Sunday, June 13, the first day of the Talisman Sabre military exercises in central Queensland.

Activists from peace and environmental groups throughout Queensland and from Sydney and Melbourne successfully blockaded the main entrance into the Shoalwater Bay Military Training Area for several hours.

Six protestors entered the base and sat reading the names of civilians and military killed in the invasion and occupation of Iraq until they were arrested and removed.

Later others blocked the access road outside the gate with banners, cardboard drums and built a pedestrian crossing which was constantly used. Four were arrested.

The activists then moved to the nearby town of Yeppoon for a peace festival on the beach where they were welcomed by hundreds of local residents. This was followed by a film showing and community protest meeting attended by over 400 people.

On the Friday night the peace workers held a vigil outside the tent city housing troops and equipment which had sprung up next to Rockhampton airport.

On Saturday teams leafletted local shopping centres while others staged a walk through the centre of Rockhampton, all with the aim of contacting as many local people as possible.

On Saturday night a documentary by David Bradbury on the use of depleted uranium weapons was premiered at an event attended by many local people.

Talisman Sabre

Operation Talisman Sabre will continue until June 30 and involves 11,000 US and 6,000 Australian soldiers in a series of amphibious assaults, bombings, parachute drops, sinking a number of vessels at sea and on-shore landings, combining land, sea, and air forces — practicing with high-tech military equipment.

These activities are not designed to defend Australia or protect its people. They are about sabre rattling in our region. They are designed to practice aggression and offensive military strategies undertaken by Australian troops under United States orders. Talisman Sabre is intended to practise this so-called interoperability.

The establishment of three Australia-US joint ‘training facilities’ (Bradshaw and Delamere in the Northern Territory and Shoalwater Bay in Queensland) and increased joint training send a clear message of antagonistic military might.

The exercises will impact on the environment of the region, the community, our neighbours in the Pacific, and our relationship with the rest of the world. The influx of so many troops will bring social problems to the region.

Previous United States bombing practices have devastated local communities. The US dropped napalm and depleted uranium on the Puerto Rican island of Vieques, before a strong community campaign forced them to leave. The cancer rate for children 11to 19 years old on Vieques is 245 per cent higher than the rest of Puerto Rico.

The United States has used depleted uranium weapons extensively in areas of conflict and in training bombing ranges. These weapons cause serious health effects such as cancers and birth defects.

Depleted uranium has been used by the US and UK in Iraq, Afghanistan and Kosova, leaving fields, deserts and water radioactive, impacting on the soldiers, community and the environment for thousands of years to come.

Talisman Sabre also involves US nuclear-powered ships and submarines. The US fleet may also be carrying nuclear weapons, as well as depleted uranium munitions.

The Peace Convergence activists believe they succeeded in many of their aims. They welded a diverse group of people into a united group which managed to delay the war games briefly, to get the truth about the exercises much more widely known, and contributed to the size and strength of a protest movement in the communities of Yeppoon and Rockhampton.

The activists promised to return for a much larger protest when an even larger Operation Talisman Sabre is staged in 2007.

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