Friday 23 March 2018

Violence erupts at protest over cuts in London

Jamie Doward

Central London was brought to a standstill yesterday as more than a quarter of a million people took to the streets in a protest against British government spending cuts that was marred when a breakaway group of activists clashed with police.

As a broad panoply of protesters, comprised of NHS staff, teachers, students, pensioners, artists and actors, marched peacefully through London to a rally in Hyde Park, a hardcore group of militant activists rampaged through the West End, targeting high-street stores, banks and the Ritz hotel.

The Trade Union Congress said the number of people who took part in the largest union-organised event for 20 years and the biggest mass protest since the anti-war march in 2003 had exceeded its initial expectations of 100,000 participants by a massive margin.

Len McCluskey, leader of the Unite union, said those taking part in the march were just the "tip of the iceberg". "There is growing anger, which will build as the impact of the cuts take effect," said Mr McCluskey, who warned of more demonstrations and possible co-ordinated strikes in the coming months.

Labour leader Ed Miliband, who spoke at the rally, told demonstrators he was proud to stand with them. Shortly after Mr Miliband spoke, clashes broke out between a breakaway group of activists and police outside the Topshop clothing store on Oxford Street.

Smoke bombs, paint bombs and light bulbs filled with ammonia were thrown at police. Windows were smashed as protesters chanted, "Pay your tax," and officers battled to keep demonstrators out of the store.

A group of around 500 anarchists, dressed head-to-toe in black, had begun roaming around the West End from lunchtime. The activists tipped bins into roads and smashed shop windows.

On Shaftesbury Avenue, Territorial Support Group riot officers attempting to defend a HSBC bank were attacked with bottles, sticks, bricks and traffic cones. Shoppers ducked into shops as missiles were hurled at windows.

Further along the street, anarchists turned their attention to a silver Lexus car. The driver tried to swerve past bins in the road but the rear window was smashed before he was able to drive off.

A line of about 50 police officers was forced to step aside when they were overwhelmed by the protesters.

Activists also threw missiles at the Ritz hotel, while a large number of demonstrators targeted the department store Fortnum & Mason, daubing it with graffiti which read "Tax the Rich".

Their actions were at odds with the behaviour of participants on the main march, which was largely orderly and good-natured.

© Observer

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