Campaigners abseiled off bridges and locked their arms in concrete tubes to prevent military equipment arriving ahead of the Defence and Security Equipment International (DSEI) conference next Tuesday.
Organisers say thousands of people will take part in a week of demonstrations and blockades around the ExCeL exhibition centre in Docklands.
More than 34,000 visitors are expected to attend this year’s conference, where ministers and arms dealers compete for contracts with foreign states.
Keynote speakers include defence secretary Michael Fallon and Liam Fox, the international trade secretary.
Protests began on Monday with demonstrations against arms to Israel.
Protesters blocked the highway in an attempt to stop military equipment reaching the ExCeL.
Police made eight arrests, including three men, aged 80, 60 and 25, and a 29-year-old woman on suspicion of obstructing the highway.
Five were arrested on suspicion of offences including: a 58-year-old woman and a 54-year-old man for motor vehicle interference, a 59-year-old woman for attempted criminal damage and a 32-year-old man for drugs offences.
Andrew Smith, of Campaign Against Arms Trade, one of the groups coordinating the protests, said policing around the venue had been “very heavy and arrest-happy.”
“People have been arrested in what has often felt like a random and arbitrary manner, he said. “There have also been concerning allegations of very targeted arrests too.
“Attempts to intimidate peaceful protesters will not work. The reason there are so many of us is because we feel so passionately that the UK should not be arming and supporting the same arms dealers and human rights abusing regimes that the police will be protecting next week.”
Various campaign and faith groups came together yesterday in a show of nonviolent protest.
Sam Walton, peace and disarmament programme manager for Quakers in Britain, said the crowd included Muslims, Buddhists, Jews and members of many Christian sects.
“Obviously religion has something to say about morality, and it’s a telling statement when so many people of different religious groups come together to condemn this arms fair,” he said.
Police made 17 arrests after protesters stopped traffic along Royal Albert Way.
They included four abseilers who hung off a bridge on the highway, four locked into concrete tubes, and eight Quakers, said Walton.
“It was very moving,” he added. “They were people who just realised that their conscience would not allow them to move out the road and let these trucks with weapons on them through.”
Police said those arrested refused to comply with repeated requests to move out of the road.
While ExCeL declined to comment, a spokesman for DSEI said the conference catered only to legal arms sales “in a well regulated environment.”
“The event indirectly contributes over £80m to Newham and the wider London economy, creating and sustaining hundreds of jobs in the local area in the process,” he added.
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