Dozens of schoolchildren in Eastbourne boycotted lessons as anti-war protests broke out across Sussex.

Youngsters staged a playground sit-in before leaving Willingdon Community School in Broad Road, Willingdon.

They headed to Polegate High Street yesterday carrying make-shift anti-war slogans scrawled on A4 paper.

Police officers stood by to ensure the protest passed peacefully while pupils not taking part in the demo stayed in their classrooms.

In Hastings and St Leonards, demonstrators swathed in fake blood bandages laid down outside the town hall pretending to be dead.

Student Sarah Marks, 19, of Battle Road, St Leonards, said: "War is not the answer to securing long-term peace.

"If anything, it will create long-term instability and the loss of thousands of innocent lives, many of them children.

"For Blair to enter Britain in war with the level of opposition he is facing is unforgivable and he will come to regret it. He has set a timebomb."

Elsewhere, churches across Eastbourne tolled their bells at precisely 6pm in protest at the conflict.

Many people gathered at Our Lady of Ransom Church by the town hall to quietly reflect on the troubles and pray for a swift end to war.

Prayers were said for the troops, their anxious families and the Iraqi people as the groundswell of opposition to war widened.

In Brighton, thousands of demonstrators took over the streets before storming a council building to vent their anger at the war.

Almost 5,000 people brought the city centre to a standstill.

About a dozen protesters stormed the town hall by kicking down the front door.

One climbed on to a second-floor balcony.

Covering his face with a neckerchief, he took a swig from a can of lager and began to roll himself a cigarette to public acclaim.

Officers wearing riot gear appeared at the doors of the building while the crowds chanted: "Our town hall."

Protesters broke into offices and sprayed computer screens with paint. Plants, furniture and windows were also broken.

Council leader Ken Bodfish said: "This is complete madness.

"I respect anyone's right to protest legitimately and peacefully but this is wilful and perverse destruction of public property.

"We will have to assess the cost of this damage both in repairs and what damage may have been done to our computer systems.

"We apologise in advance to any of our residents who may be inconvenienced if some of our services are not fully functioning."

Inspector Mark Powles, of Sussex Police, said: "There have been a number of arrests for minor offences but no more than about half a dozen."

Earlier, crowds of protesters made their way through the streets to the sound of beating drums.

Flanked by hundreds of police, they held a sit-down protest before their ranks were swelled by more people arriving.

People on their way home from work were held up as buses were diverted away from the centre and traffic ground to a halt.

A few stranded motorists were caught in the middle of the march but some were beeping their horns to show their support.

Outside the station protesters climbed on bus shelters and youngsters stood side by side with senior citizens.

Lucette Forrest, 71, said: "I came along so I could look my grandsons in the eye when they are old enough to talk about this.

Steve Martin, 18, of Peacehaven, said: "The people here believe it's not our war.

"I have friends in the armed forces and I don't want anything to happen to them."

Scores of police officers stood in line, trying to keep the protest as restrained as possible.

A number of demonstrators lay down in the middle of Queen's Road.

Others climbed on traffic lights and on the base of the clock tower to get a better view.

Not everyone was supportive of the protest.

One Mercedes driver gave marchers a V-sign and others simmered inside their vehicles.

Later, police were called to isolated incidents on the seafront.

Peace campaigners made a deafening noise in Worthing town centre.

About 120 people of all ages assembled near the clock tower in South Place.

They blew whistles, sounded klaxons, beat pots and pans, waved a black flag and unfurled banners with slogans such as "War Is Wicked" and "Not In My Name".

Campaign group Worthing Against War said people should not support British servicemen fighting in the Gulf.

They were branded "totally wrong" by retired Army major Tom Wye, president of Worthing Combined Ex-Services Association.

In Mid Sussex, anti-war campaigners staged a series of peaceful protests.

The hour-long protests in Burgess Hill and Haywards Heath at 5.30pm yesterday coincided with demos around the country.

About two dozen members of the Mid Sussex Global Peace Campaign took to the streets with banners in Burgess Hill, while a further 15 people gathered in the Peace Garden, Haywards Heath.

Campaign member David Roberts said: "No country, not even the US, has the right to assassinate another country's leaders.

"We support our troops who signed up to defend this country by calling for their immediate return.

"People are naturally very self-conscious about demonstrating in small towns and villages unless they are personally affected by an issue.

"We anticipate there will be far more people going from this area to the demonstration in London on Saturday."

In another protest, 300 children stopped traffic by staging an anti-war march in Haywards Heath.