Santas protest for dads' rights in Britain and Italy

December 20, 2004


LONDON (AFP) - Militant fathers dressed as Father Christmases held demonstrations in Britain and Italy on Saturday for the right to see their children over the Christmas holiday period.

In London 30 Santas in red coats and long white beards held a parade through the capital ahead of the Yuletide season, while a large contingent of police officers kept them under tight surveillance.

The activists are already notorious for spectacular stunts including a Batman-style ascent of the walls of Buckingham Palace, the monarch's living quarters.

Santa Claus is usually to be found in London's department stores at this time of year enquiring of kiddies what they would like in their stocking for Christmas.

But Saturday's Santas wanted to let the world know what they themselves would like for Christmas.

"We're trying to put the fathers back into Christmas," said Gary Burch, spokesman for Fathers 4 Justice.

In Britain, "two to five million children are separated from their fathers on Christmas Day," he said.

Police were out in force at the Houses of Parliament, Buckingham Palace and Prime Minister Tony Blair's official address, 10, Downing Street. But the protest passed off peacefully.

In Rome meanwhile, about 30 Father Christmases chained themselves to a gigantic placard in the famous Piazza Navona square in the heart of the city. The placard took the form of two hearts representing a mother and a father, with an equality sign between them.

Activists from the so-called "Army of fathers" were protesting against the lack of rights for divorced and separated fathers in Italy.

"Throughout Europe the international movement for the rights of separated parents has gone onto the streets to make itself heard by European institutions," said the head of the association "Children denied" Giorgio Ceccarelli.

"Thousands of children will be orphaned from their fathers this Christmas too," he said.

The protests in the two cities were coordinated by the Fathers 4 Justice organisation.