Saturday 24 March 2018

G8 protests: 32 arrested as riot police descend on central London

Hundreds of riot police were deployed throughout central London today as protests took place against next week's G8 summit.

A building was occupied by demonstrators in Soho and there was a stand-off between protesters and police in Piccadilly as officers blocked access to Fortnum & Mason.

The historic shop was targeted during protests against Government cuts in 2011.

Metropolitan Police teams were out in force in a bid to keep today's action under control and dramatically forced their way into the occupied building, a former police site, on Beak Street at lunchtime.

Protesters, demonstrating against the upcoming G8 summit, scuffle with police in central London
Protesters, demonstrating against the upcoming G8 summit, scuffle with police in central London
Police and protesters at anti G8 gathering
Police restrain a protester
Police officers in riot gear surround a building used as a headquarters by a group protesting against the upcoming G8 summit

Television footage showed officers in climbing gear trying to secure the roof, bundling a protester who sprang on to the rooftop on to his front.

Around two dozen protesters gathered outside the BP headquarters in St James's Square amid a heavy police presence.

Police said there was intelligence to suggest paint bombs and shields could be used against horses and officers in Westminster and the City of London.

Powers to stop and search in anticipation of violence and to require the removal of disguises were authorised.

Scotland Yard also said that this morning officers were given a search warrant for a building in Beak Street where it was believed protesters might have weapons.

The force confirmed that no group tried to liaise with them about the demonstrations today.

The group StopG8 branded the action, held ahead of the two-day G8 summit in Northern Ireland next week, a "Carnival against Capitalism".

Businesses including hedge funds and banks in central London are understood to have warned staff to take precautions after similar protests in recent years led to violent clashes with police.

Westminster City Council cabinet member for city management Ed Argar said: "Our warden teams will be working with police to manage the streets and we also have clean-up crews on standby.

"Everyone respects the right to legitimate protest and I hope this will be a day without incident.

"However, business people, shop staff and visitors have the right to go about the West End without intimidation or interference and we will do our best to ensure the centre of London runs smoothly."

One activist, who gave his name as Phoenix, claimed police were obstructing the right to peacefully protest by trying to clear the building in Soho.

He said: "It's clearly undemocratic. This really smacks of restricting the right to peacefully protest. It's a long tradition in this country for people to get their point across. It's not dangerous, it's not violent. It's a peaceful protest."

By late afternoon, 32 people had been arrested for offences including possession of articles with intent to commit criminal damage, assault on police, criminal damage, possession of an offensive weapon and failing to remove a face covering.

The leaders of the world's eight wealthiest countries, including Russian president Vladimir Putin and German chancellor Angela Merkel, are due to meet at the luxury Lough Erne resort in Co Fermanagh for the conference next week.

US president Barack Obama is also due to visit parts of Belfast ahead of the summit.

Police protection of landmark sites across the city has been tightened in advance of the event.

A Home Office spokeswoman said: "Peaceful protest is a vital part of a democratic society, providing it is conducted within the law. But protesters' rights need to be balanced with the rights of others to go about their business without fear of intimidation or serious disruption to the community.

"Rights to peaceful protest do not extend to violent or threatening behaviour and the police have powers to deal with any such acts."

Police said they also raided an unoccupied building in Norton Folgate near Liverpool Street this afternoon after reports of criminal damage.

Around 20 people were inside at the time and officers made three arrests for alleged criminal damage, Scotland Yard said.

Metropolitan Police commander Neil Basu said around 1,200 officers had been involved in Operation Hemingway, which he described as a "proportionate" response to the protests.

He said: "We had some protests and disorder in London but we were anticipating that there would be protests this week.

"I think we have behaved proportionately and we have used the tactics that we know have been effective in the past.

"What we want to do is help people protest peacefully and within the bounds of the law. It is only when people step outside of that that police have to use their powers to prevent crime and disorder - that's what the public pays us for."

He said officers were deployed at fixed sites known as "protest magnets" as part of the operation.

"I am incredibly proud to live in a country where your right is for peaceful protest," he said. "If people come and speak to us we can organise and help you plan a peaceful protest within the bounds of the law.

"If you decide to step outside the law, our core job is to prevent crime and disorder, that's what you have seen us doing today."

Press Association

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