Anti-war campaigners in Mid Sussex staged a series of peaceful protests as bombs rained down on Baghdad.

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 Church Walk, Burgess Hill, while a further 15 people gathered in the Peace Garden, Haywards Heath.

Campaign member David Roberts said: "We were glad we were able to publicly join in with the worldwide condemnation of the war.

"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.

"We expected the events to be small.

"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.

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

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

About a dozen protesters stormed Brighton 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 huge 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 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.

"A dozen or so people stormed the town hall while it was locked and closed."

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 city centre and traffic ground to a halt.

The protest began at 5.30pm when a marching band led the massed ranks dancing up Queens Road, stopping traffic in its tracks.

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

A young boy sat on his father's shoulders and banged a tambourine while a group of schoolgirls led the crowds in a peace chant.

Among the placards were some stating "Not In My Name" and "Sham Democracy Leads To State Terrorism".

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.

"Israel has ignored more resolutions than Iraq has and I am wearing a Palestinian flag even though I have been pro-Israeli."

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.

"I'm of an age where I could be called up and I don't think I would be doing the right thing."

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 silently 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.

Dozens of schoolchildren walked out from lessons at Willingdon Community School in Broad Road, Willingdon, Eastbourne, during the day of county-wide pro-tests.

Churches across Eastbourne tolled their bells at precisely 6pm in protest at the outbreak of the bombing.