Thousands gather in London to protest against government cuts

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Monday, March 28, 2011

Protesters in Oxford Street threw paint and smoke bombs at the branch of Topshop.
Image: Mark Ramsay.
The violence came to a head last night in Trafalgar Square.
Image: Magnus D.
Protesters in Sheffield earlier this month.
Image: Sheffield Indymedia.
(Image missing from commons: image; log)

Hundreds of thousands of people joined marches in London on Saturday against public sector cuts by the British government. One union estimated up to half a million people travelled from across the country to demonstrate as the ConservativeLiberal Democrat coalition implements wide-ranging spending cuts.

According to reports, a small group of protesters dressed in black threw paint and smoke bombs at the Oxford Street branch of Topshop, and demonstrators in Piccadilly threw smoke bombs at the Ritz Hotel. The protests have targeted the government and a number of retail outlets, following on from the UK Uncut campaign which has demonstrated outside retailers including Vodafone and Topshop to raise awareness of alleged tax system abuses by the businesses.

The violence came to a head on Sunday as police stormed Trafalgar Square and the protesters ran, throwing bricks and bottles at riot officers. "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." Clashes in the square finally ended in the early hours of yesterday morning.

Cquote1.svg The protesters grabbed metal barriers and hurled them over police lines, using them as battering rams. Cquote2.svg

Wikinews reports from Trafalgar Square

Senior members of the TUC, the federation of 88 of the country's unions, were quick to dissociate the disruptive actions of the "few hundred" with those of the earlier peaceful protest, claiming that the violence of a minority should not detract from the message behind the main march.

The Labour Party leader, Ed Miliband, addressed hundreds of thousands of peaceful marchers assembled in Hyde Park, and attacked the planned spending cuts. "Our struggle is to fight to preserve, protect and defend the best of the services we cherish because they represent the best of the country we love," he said.

The Metropolitan Police said approximately 4,500 officers were policing the event, and 214 demonstrators were detained. On Twitter, the force reported two significant incidents of violence and that four police officers have been injured; one is being treated in hospital. They also said protesters had thrown light bulbs filled with ammonia at officers on Oxford Street.

Small protests have been ongoing in the U.K. since early this month, mainly in the northern city of Sheffield. In the biggest of these, 5,000 people attended a protest march on March 12 in Sheffield, with demonstrators marching from Devonshire Green, an open space in the city centre, to the venue of the Liberal Democrat spring conference. Barricades were set up after "violent incidents", though only one arrest was made.


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