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Tuesday, October 26, 1999

Narmada activists take protest high up in London

ANJALI MODY  
LONDON, OCT 25: High up against the London skyline, a small figure in black dangled off a rope at the top of the Millennium Ferris wheel. He was one of eight environmental activists who, early this morning, climbed the 450-ft-high giant wheel, to protest against the building of the Narmada dam in India and the Itoitz dam in Spain.

The giant wheel, called the ``London Eye'' is part of Britain's official millennium celebrations. Located on the River Thames just across from the Houses of Parliament, work on it is expected to be completed before the end of December. According to supporters on the ground, the climbers, who included women, began their ascent at around 5.30 this morning. It took them less than half an hour to shimmy up the ``maintenance ladder'' built into the outer frame. By 8 a.m. they were comfortably settled with backpacks suspended off the giant spokes of the 1500-tonne wheel and had huge unfurled banners with the slogans ``Stop The Dams'', ``Free Narmada,'' ``Let the Rivers Run Free'' and``Free Itoitz'' waving about against a clear blue sky.

The group at the very top of the wheel, who are trained climbers, have hung a scarlet hammock-style tent in which they plan to stay the night. They are equipped with food, warm and waterproof clothing and, we were told, would happily stay there a few days.

They have said that they will stay until the police force them down. Even for police accustomed to dealing with innovative protestors, getting people of a 450-ft-high frame is likely to depend more on negotiations than on force.

A couple of men in red overalls staring up at the wheel, along with the clutch of journalists and cameramen, watched. They said that climbing up was ``easy enough, if you disregard safety''. One of them said that he was ``a little disappointed ..because we were looking forward to being the first ones up at the top, now they've beaten us to it.''

His colleagues commented that the protestors had ``picked a fine day.. they'll have great views and snaps for the album''. Bothmen, whose work had been stalled by the protest, said that they supported the action because ``at least these people stand up for their beliefs.'' The high-wire protestors are from the Basque environmentalist group Solidarios con Itoitz and British supporters of the anti-Narmada campaign, Narmada UK.

The Basque group is on a ``European Tour'' having come to London via the European parliament in Strasbourg.

By mid-morning, the grounds around the wheel were packed with sightseers and families enjoying the mid-term school break. Most walked under the wheel unmindful of what was going on top.

Copyright © 1999 Indian Express Newspapers (Bombay) Ltd.


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