Sunday, March 25, 2007

Thousands march to mark slavery ban

LONDON, England (Reuters) -- Religious leaders led several thousand people through London on Saturday to mark the 200th anniversary of Britain's abolition of the slave trade.

Two marches wound their way from central and south London to a prayer rally in Kennington Park in the south of the city to commemorate parliament's abolition of the practice on March 25, 1807.

"The easiest thing in the world is to look back 200 years and say we wouldn't have made those mistakes," Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams told the crowd.

"A part of what we are doing today is recognizing that the people who worked in the slave trade, the people who kept going a system of inhumanity, were people like you and me," he said. "They were people who in many ways might have been decent, responsible people, but they couldn't see."

Kennington Park was often a scene during the 18th century of anti-slavery rallies, as well as public executions.

Police said a total of 3,600 people took part in the two marches, whose theme was "remembrance, repentance and restoration."

A campaign by British politician and philanthropist William Wilberforce in favor of the emancipation of slaves persuaded the church, the public and finally parliament.

"The church as much as the rest of society were thoroughly implicated in it," said Bishop of Southwark Tom Butler, who led one of the marches, adding that parliament had to pass an act banning the practice because the public had demanded it.

London played a pivotal role in Britain's involvement in the transatlantic trade in enslaved Africans, sending more than 25,000 people to the Americas in appalling conditions during the 17th and 18th centuries.

The ships returned to the city's West India Dock with cargoes of sugar and spices, which were key to the economic success of the British Empire.

The slave trade continued for several years even after the practice was outlawed. Many ship captains had slaves dumped overboard when caught to avoid facing heavy fines.

Prime Minister Tony Blair plans to send a recorded message of regret for Britain's role on Sunday during celebrations in Ghana, where many slaves came from, that will mark the bicentenary of the abolition.

Link to CNN