COUNCIL staff across York are being called on to walk out of work and occupy the city centre the day that war breaks out.

The action call to employees and other concerned individuals was made at the city's biggest anti-war protest, when an estimated 5,000 people marched through the streets.

It was reiterated today by Peter Household, Unison general convenor, who said it was not an official Unison action.

Students in the city are also planning a series of demonstrations, and residents are being urged to join a mass protest in London on Saturday as anger about the impending war against Iraq heightens.

Candlelit vigils took place in the city last night, and this morning protesters set up a peace camp outside Clifford's Tower - the starting point of Saturday's march. They were expected to remain there until any conflict was over.

Mr Household said he wanted colleagues and others in the city to join him at the Mansion House on 11am on the day war breaks out.

He said: "I shall be absenting myself from work without authority to stand outside the Mansion House.

"I'm calling on any council worker to join me and anyone else who sees fit.

"It's an opportunity to demonstrate. If a lot of people join me there will be disruption, but I will be there on my own if necessary."

The unofficial action is expected to include council staff and health workers from across the city.

People are also being asked to meet at St Sampson's Square at 6pm on the day war that breaks out.

On Saturday, traffic around York city centre was halted as men, women and children joined forces to send Prime Minister Tony Blair a clear anti-war message.

Lindsey German, convenor of the Stop The War coalition, which organised the event and five other marches around the country, told the crowds that the demonstrations had to continue, especially in the event of conflict.

She said: "We have to increase the pressure to make sure this war is as short as possible.

"There's a whole programme of action in York and every other town and city across the country.

"We are asking people to occupy their city centre on the day that war breaks out.

"People here will regard it as an illegal war and an immoral war, and will continue to oppose it."

After the march through the city, a rally took place at York Minster, where the 15 speakers included City of York councillors Janet Looker and Sue Galloway.

Coun Galloway said: "I remember campaigning against war in Vietnam, but I believe these are much, much more dangerous times. This could lead to World War Three."

The rally broke up around 2.45pm, with a call to protesters to join a demonstration at the US base at Menwith Hill on Saturday.

Tickets for the mass demonstration in London on Saturday went on sale today at Fairer Trade in Gillygate.

Updated: 10:53 Monday, March 17, 2003