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article imageThousands march in London against looming Brexit

By Alice RITCHIE (AFP)     Mar 25, 2017 in World

Tens of thousands of pro-EU protesters took to London's streets Saturday, in defiance of the terror threat, to mark the bloc's 60th anniversary just days before Brexit begins.

Organisers said around 80,000 people joined the march calling for Britain to stay in the European Union, even as Prime Minister Theresa May prepares to start the withdrawal process on Wednesday.

A sea of blue EU flags stretched down Piccadilly and past Trafalgar Square, interspersed by signs saying "I am European" and "I'm 15 -- I want my future back!"

The crowd fell silent as it filed into Parliament Square, the scene of terror this week when a homegrown killer drove a car through crowds of people before crashing into a fence and stabbing a policeman.

Demonstrators holding EU flags gather in Parliament Square in London during an anti-Brexit  pro-Euro...
Demonstrators holding EU flags gather in Parliament Square in London during an anti-Brexit, pro-European Union (EU) march in London on March 25, 2017
Chris J RATCLIFFE, AFP

"Terrorism won't divide us -- Brexit will," said one banner, while another said: "Stop sleepwalking, stop this madness."

Police said that "an appropriate policing plan is in place" but an AFP reporter said security was discreet.

The anniversary of the EU's founding treaty was marked by a special summit in Rome, where at least 10,000 people also marched in support of the bloc.

Wellwishers lay flowers outside the Houses of Parliament on March 25  2017  following the March 22 a...
Wellwishers lay flowers outside the Houses of Parliament on March 25, 2017, following the March 22 attack by Khalid Masood that killed 4 and injured 29 in London
Chris J Ratcliffe, AFP

"I was a girl during the war and this grand European movement has become my political ideal," Catherine Chastenet, 74, a marcher from Paris, told AFP in Rome.

Around 4,000 people also gathered in Berlin, organisers said, holding up banners saying "More Europe" and the "EU is not dead" -- reflecting fears that Brexit may cause irreparable harm to the 27-nation bloc.

"2016 was a terrible year for Europe and the world, we are going to make 2017 a year of hope, the year that people stand up and say 'This is our Europe'," cried out one organiser as DJs played loud techno music.

Rallies were also held across Poland, one of the EU's newest and most enthusiastic members, where supporters sang the "Ode to Joy" European anthem as they waved Polish and EU flags.

- 'I'm told I'm a foreigner' -

A volunteer carries balloons with the EU logo during the "March For Europe" demonstration ...
A volunteer carries balloons with the EU logo during the "March For Europe" demonstration in Berlin on March 25, 2017 to mark the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome
Tobias SCHWARZ, AFP

There were calls to cancel the London march after Wednesday's attack, in which the assailant, Khalid Masood, killed four people before being shot dead by police.

But organisers insisted they would not be cowed and sunshine brought out a large crowd of many different nationalities and ages.

A dog carries an EU flag at a "March For Europe" demonstration in Berlin on March 25  2017...
A dog carries an EU flag at a "March For Europe" demonstration in Berlin on March 25, 2017 to mark the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome
Tobias SCHWARZ, AFP

"I'm a citizen of Europe and Britain but for me the European family is much more important than being an isolated nation," said Glenn Pierce, a 25-year-old teacher from Newcastle in northeastern England.

Britons voted by 52 percent to end their four-decade membership of the EU in the June 23 referendum -- but 48 percent, or 16 million people, voted to stay.

Many are deeply unhappy with May's plans to leave the EU's single market in order to cut immigration, and in particular her refusal to guarantee the rights of three million Europeans living in Britain.

"I was told I could settle down, marry a Brit and make my life here," said Joan Pons, a Spanish nurse who has lived in Britain for 17 years.

"Yet today I am told I'm a foreigner and should go back where I come from."

May declined to attend the EU celebrations in Italy marking the signature by six founding states of the Treaty of Rome on March 25, 1957.

On Wednesday, the prime minister will trigger Article 50 of the EU's Lisbon Treaty, starting a two-year countdown to Britain's exit.

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