Police arrest 32 after raid on protest HQ
Police arrested 32 people as the first wave of G8 protests hit London, with police clearing the HQ of the protest movement before its planned march even got under way.
With nearly 1,200 police officers mobilised across the city, hundreds of officers swooped on a squat in Soho, tearing down the doors and removing about 40 people who had been occupying it.
The Metropolitan Police also trailed a protest through the West End on the first day of a week of protests against next week's G8 meeting.
Anti-capitalist demonstrators had identified around 100 targets across the West End, including banks, hedge funds and even nightclubs, which they said were symbols of wealth.
Officers searched both the Soho building and the squatters they found there, most of whom were subsequently allowed to go free. Police said they made the pre-emptive strike because they feared that the protesters had weapons and were planning to bring serious disorder to central London.
But anti-G8 demonstrators said they had squatted Section House, a former police building on Beak Street, to protest against the number of empty properties in London. One said he saw a police officer punch a protester in the face.
Riot police swooped at around 10am, forming cordons to seal off the building from the surrounding streets. They brought tools to cut down the doors. People working nearby, who were told not to leave their offices while the operation was carried out, leaned out of their windows to get a better view. Meanwhile, demonstrators hung banners out of the windows.
Police said at least one of the arrests was made on suspicion of possession of an offensive weapon and at least one more was on suspicion of criminal damage. Police said another person was arrested over an alleged assault on a police officer.
But protesters claimed that police assaulted them. One squatter – who did not want to be named – said: "There were people on the balcony trying to communicate with the police, asking for time to make a decision because they were worried about homelessness. The police officer said that he would go and make a decision on that. Two minutes later, they came with angle grinders.
"I was just behind the guy who got hit. They grabbed him by the scruff of his neck and punched him square in his face and split his lip open."
As a police helicopter whirred above, another group of 200-300 anti-capitalists marched through the West End, while a large police escort trailed them. They were met everywhere with lines of police.
Following police advice to West End businesses to take precaution, The Ritz pulled down its shutters. (© Independent News Service)