British protest turns violent
BRITISH police have clashed with bottle-throwing protesters at London’s Trafalgar Square, overshadowing a peaceful march by more than 250,000 people against government spending cuts.
At least 214 people were arrested and 84 people were hurt when a small group of ‘ ‘ criminal’’ demonstrators broke free from Saturday’s main rally, the biggest in the capital since protests against the Iraq war in 2003.
A group of several hundred masked rioters attacked the iconic Ritz Hotel, occupied a luxury food store, smashed up shops and banks and started a bonfire in historic Trafalgar Square before police finally contained them. The original march called by unions on Saturday drew health workers, firefighters, teachers and their families, including children, to oppose the ConservativeLiberal Democrat coalition’s austerity measures.
‘‘ I think it’s a game of two halves. Two hundred and fifty thousand people came to central London and protested peacefully,’’ said Commander Bob Broadhurst of Scotland Yard, who led the police operation.
‘‘ But what we have had unfortunately is a group of criminals, nothing to do with that march, have decided to - on their own steam - attack buildings in central London and attack police officers,’’ he told Sky News.
Several hundred black-clad protesters covering their faces with scarves hurled fireworks, petrol bombs and paint at police, AFP reporters saw.
Clothes store Topshop and banks HSBC and Lloyds had t hei r windows s mashed, while some protesters hurled missiles at the five-star Ritz Hotel. A group of protesters occupied luxury food store Fortnum and Mason and sprayed graffiti on the building until police sealed off the premises and arrested those coming out. Police said officers came under ‘‘ sustained attack’’ at Trafalgar Square, site of the famous Nelson’s Column and of four huge bronze lions. Rioters there were still throwing bottles at police into the early hours of Sunday. Thirty-one police officers and 53 members of the public were injured in the violence, police said. Sixteen members of the public and 11 police needed hospital treatment. The 214 arrests were for public order offences, cri minal damage, aggravated trespass and violent disorder, said police.
About 4500 police officers were deployed for the protest after several British student rallies descended into chaos last year.
CHAOS: Riot police in front of a burning barricade in Jermyn St during clashes with protesters that saw hundreds arrested