Mon, Nov 07, 2005 - Page 6 News List

Britain commemorates plot to blow up the government

GUY FAWKES NIGHT Parallels with Sept. 11 were made as Britons marked the 400th anniversary of a plot in which Catholics attempted to blow up the Houses of Parliament

AFP , LONDON

Bonfires were lit and fireworks set off across Britain late on Saturday as the country marked the 400th anniversary of an audacious plot to blow up its then king and seat of government.

Bonfire Night -- or Guy Fawkes Night -- is an annual event marking a failed attempt on Nov. 5, 1605 by Catholic conspirators to bring down King James I and the Houses of Parliament with 36 barrels of gunpowder.

The thousands of organized and private events traditionally prompt safety warnings amid concern that people could suffer burns and other injuries. Saturday saw 10 people, including three children, hurt at one display.

Comparisons have been drawn this year between the Gunpowder Plot and modern-day terrorism in London, particularly the July 7 attacks that killed 56 people, including four apparent suicide bombers.

One of the largest events is a parade through the streets of Lewes, southeast England, which involves a fancy-dress procession and burning of effigies of Fawkes and Paul V, the Catholic pope at the time of the plot.

Lewes' celebrations have come under fire in the past for perpetuating sectarian divisions: Fawkes and his co-conspirators were all members of the then-repressed Catholic minority and opposed to the dominant Anglicanism. Other fears have been raised about Bonfire Night in the light of Prime Minister Tony Blair's proposed laws outlawing the incitement to religious hatred.

But organizers of the Lewes bonfires, which commemorate also the burning of 17 Protestants in the town's High Street between 1555 and 1557 during the reign of the Catholic queen Mary I, stressed that it was now merely a secular tradition.

Keith Austin, secretary of the Lewes Bonfire Council, said: "It is nothing really to do with religion now, and we are going to continue because the Bonfire people in Lewes don't just cut and run if there's a problem."

Other events on Saturday included a parade of 1,066 flaming torches through the streets of Battle, in southeast England, the site of the Battle of Hastings where William of Normandy defeated the English king Harold in 1066.

One of its organizers, Andrew Knowles-Baker, said the Gunpowder Plot was still relevant because it would have been "catastrophic" had the bombers succeeded.

"It was an ultimate act of terrorism," he said. "They were blowing up their own people as well as the ones they wanted to remove."

"Several hundred people would have been killed and it would have changed the whole face of the monarchy. It's a pretty momentous thing. We should mark and understand why it happened," he said.

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