Battle for Trafalgar Square, London as violence breaks out between demonstrators and riot police

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Monday, March 28, 2011

The scene in Trafalgar Square last night before riot police moved in and clashes broke out.
Image: Magnus D.

Sunday morning showed Trafalgar Square, London damaged during the night by demonstrators.

Bottles, cans, and placards littered the concrete ground of one of the most iconic landmarks in London. Demonstrators livid at government cuts had sprayed graffiti on the four bronze lions. "No-one rules if no-one obeys," one message, next to the symbol of anarchy, read. On the steps leading up to the National Gallery lay placards, dropped by demonstrators the night before. Hours earlier the square was an arena for running battles between the anarchist protesters and riot police.

First, they targetted Oxford Street, arguably the most famous shopping row in the city. The protesters, many dressed in black, hurled smoke bombs and paint at Topshop, which they claimed has systematically abused the tax system. In Piccadilly, they ransacked The Ritz, a hotel popularly known for upmarket opulence. As darkness fell over the capital, many went home. But in Trafalgar Square, protesters lit campfires and danced to music, smoking and eating into the night.

But then the police moved in. Clad in riot gear, the situation began to escalate and both they and the demonstrators began to panic. They raised their batons and shouted at the crowd, while the protesters grabbed metal barriers and hurled them over police lines, using them as battering rams. Some protesters yelled in defence, "Don't hit us!", while the more determined shouted, "Shame on you! Your job's next!" The riot officers pushed protesters into the centre of the square, towards Nelson's Column. The police started forward at least twice swinging their batons in the air, as protesters retaliated by throwing glass bottles and coins towards the police lines. One officer was taken away with blood pouring from under his visor.

"I have never seen such a fast escalation of violence in my life," one witness to the violence in the square said. "Everything just kicked off, glass everywhere, police hitting people, people being dragged across the floor. I just can't believe it." Other protesters on the front line later described the police retaliation as they began to kettle people in. "I find myself in front of the riot line," one protester wrote, "taking a blow to the head and a kick to the shin; I am dragged to my feet by a girl with blue hair who squeezes my arm and then raises a union flag defiantly at the cops."

Cquote1.svg Everything just kicked off, glass everywhere, police hitting people, people being dragged across the floor. I just can't believe it. Cquote2.svg

—Protester

Fireworks exploded overhead and, towards midnight, the number of protesters had diminished. As the kettling began, many of them slipped away into the night. In the early hours of the morning, the levels of violence began to fade. “Vandalism has been committed and officers have come under sustained attack," the Metropolitan Police said. "We are holding everyone here until the situation calms down and we determine who is responsible."

As the street cleaners worked through the morning in London, more than 200 protesters, detained throughout the day, remained in custody. Although the organisers of the march were swift to disassociate themselves with the violence, the protesters were defiant. "I'm not moving, I'm not moving," one young protester, hemmed in by the riot police, said. "I've been on every protest, I won't let this government destroy our future without a fight. I won't stand back, I'm not moving."

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