As the Spirit of Christmas Fair opened in London this morning, its owners Clarion Events faced ridicule over their assertion that they were "entirely comfortable" with their recent purchase of arms fairs. A peaceful protest by the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) saw campaigners dressed as Santa Claus and elves carrying sacks of weapons rather than presents (photographs available on request).
Several exhibitors had earlier contacted Clarion's management to express their opposition to the arms industry. Clarion's chief executive Simon Kimble wrote to critical exhibitors arguing that public opinion is not against the industry and stating that he was comfortable with the company's position.
CAAT spokesperson Symon Hill said:
"It is beyond satire for a company to celebrate the 'Spirit of Christmas' while making profits from the arms trade. Clarion's bosses seem to be the only people who don't find it absurd. Exhibitors here have been shocked to learn of Clarion's ownership of arms fairs, which have hosted representatives of vicious regimes such as China, Libya and Saudi Arabia. Clarion are out of touch with public opinion and their reputation is already affected."
CAAT supporter Ian Pocock, who joined the protest dressed as an elf, said:
"I'm here because this is a good way to make a point about the owners of the Spirit of Christmas Fair also running DSEI, the London arms fair. Allowing countries with poor human rights records to buy weapons is no part of the spirit of Christmas."
1. The Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) works for the reduction and ultimate abolition of the international arms trade. 80% of CAAT's funding comes from individual supporters' donations. CAAT is strictly nonviolent in all its work.
2. The Spirit of Christmas Fair is taking place at the Olympia Centre, London W14 from 5th-9th November. The visual protest took place at 11.00am today. Photographs are available on request.
3. In May, Clarion Events bought three arms fairs from Reed Elsevier. Reed sold the fairs following a campaign co-ordinated by CAAT. Writers and medical professionals who contributed to Reed's publications had backed the campaign while Reed shareholders had sold their shares in protest. Clarion bought two more arms fairs in September this year.
4. Clarion's arms fairs include the biennial London arms fair, Defence Systems and Equipment International (DSEI), next due in September 2009. When DSEI last took place, in September 2007, governments invited to attend included a number of regimes with extremely poor human rights records, such as Libya, China, Colombia and Saudi Arabia.
5. In response to criticism from exhibitors, Clarion's chief executive Simon Kimble wrote letters to them stating that "We do not believe, as CAAT asserts, that public opinion is opposed to the defence and security industry. Whilst we respect their right to protest, as you would expect we considered our decision to run events for this sector very carefully and we remain entirely comfortable with this".
6. Spokespeople for CAAT are available for interview.
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