Wednesday, April 01, 2009

G20 Protest Bulletin: Royal Bank of Scotland Stormed, Trashed; Thousands Surround Bank of England

G20 protests: riot police clash with demonstrators• RBS branch stormed as bloody skirmishes erupt

• Thousands of protesters held in containment pens
• Barack Obama and Gordon Brown upbeat on G20 deal

Sam Jones and Paul Lewis, Wednesday 1 April 2009 15.59 BST

Watch video on the clashes outside the Bank of England & RBS

Police and demonstrators clash in London at G20

The G20 protests in central London turned violent ahead of tomorrow's summit, with a hardcore band of demonstrators close to the Bank of England storming a Royal Bank of Scotland branch, smashing its windows and wrecking the interior.

The trouble broke out as Gordon Brown and Barack Obama announced that the G20 leaders were "within a few hours" of agreeing a global deal for economic recovery.

Riot officers and police dogs and horses were used to remove the 20 protesters, who spent quarter of an hour ransacking the RBS building, tearing out computers and telephones. Nineteen people were arrested after a small group among the 4,000-strong crowd broke through the police line.

Although the demonstrations began peacefully, bloody skirmishes erupted as police tried to keep thousands of people in containment pens on Threadneedle Street.

Protesters targeted RBS – at the centre of a row over £703,000-a-year pension payments to Sir Fred Goodwin, the disgraced former chief executive – and police spent an hour clearing and sealing off the branch, which had been closed today as a precaution.

By midday, around 60 protesters and police were involved in scuffles, which saw officers pelted with bottles, eggs, fruit and paint. Some officers also had their helmets ripped from their heads and thrown into the air, which was turned pink and red as protesters let off smoke bombs. Police responded by using truncheons, batons and pepper spray.

For two hours, a group of protesters pushed against the police line on Threadneedle Street, provoking intermittent skirmishes that left several officers and demonstrators injured.

Police used truncheons and batons to beat back the protesters each time they surged forward. Some in the pens demanded to be released, saying they were being denied the right to march, while others set their sights on the RBS branch.

To cheers and shouts, protesters smashed several of the bank's windows, writing "burn a banker" and "scum" in spray paint.

Police in riot gear inside the bank tackled protesters trying to climb in through the smashed windows.

Scotland Yard said corralling the demonstrators into the area was a legitimate tactic as missiles were being thrown at police officers on Threadneedle Street.

A spokesman said that the pens would remain in place for as long as necessary, but by 3pm police had loosened the cordon around the Bank and allowed crowds to filter away along Queen Victoria Street.

The Met later confirmed that 19 people had been arrested. Eight of them were detained for offences ranging from threatening behaviour to violent disorder and indecency while another 11 protesters who turned up at the protest in an armoured personnel carrier were arrested in connection with the possession of police uniforms and road traffic offences.

The latter group are understood to be anarchists known as the Space Hijackers who had come to make their feelings felt through the medium of street theatre.

Large numbers of demonstrators who tried to make their way down Threadneedle Street towards the climate camp in the City were met halfway by a police line.

"It's our street, it's our street," the crowd chanted as it was forced forward on to the line.

Injured demonstrators with bleeding heads and necks were ushered through the crowd while others handed out milk so that people could wash the pepper spray from their eyes and mouths.

Harry, who was dressed as the Grim Reaper, led the procession from Moorgate to the Bank of England. However, his costume did not amuse the police, who demanded that he remove his skeletal mask so they could see his face. He said it was the first time he had marched in 10 years.

"I'm protesting for the small individuals in Britain who have been left with their pants down as the government bails out the banks for billions of dollars. Where's the money for the struggling baker, butcher, small marketing people and architectural companies?"

He accused the government of helping the big boys but "leaving the little boys to sink".

In contrast to the violence that marred the Bank of England protests, the climate camp event in Bishopsgate was largely peaceful.

The police, who had been warned that the London Climate Exchange Centre was to be a target of the protests, were taken by surprise but did not try to stop an instant tent city being set up.

Within minutes, 800 yards of Bishopsgate had been blocked off, banners hung, and stalls, a farmers' market and a bandstand erected.

For the next two hours Bishopsgate became the scene of a political rave, with dancing, speeches and celebrities arriving to wish demonstrators good luck.

"I'm blown away by this. Art is the antidote to despair and global warming is the greatest issue of the age," said Dame Vivienne Westwood, wearing a "chaos" bandana on her head.

"Carbon trading is a scam. There has been no reduction in climate change emissions. The G20 looks at climate change and sees a way to make money. We see it as the chance for sustainable living," said Sophie Stephens, an office worker from Leeds.

Amid the protests, office workers on their lunch breaks mixed with protesters and generally approved. "Capitalism is just not working. Don't give money to the bankers, give it to ordinary people," said Franklyn Sewell, a medical worker.

RBS branch attacked in City of London

By FT Reporters
April 1 2009 14:56

Protests by thousands of anti-capitalist demonstrators in the City of London ahead of the G20 summit turned violent on Wednesday when windows at a branch of Royal Bank of Scotland, one of the UK’s biggest banks, were smashed and police charged the crowd.

Four marches, led by representations of horsemen of the apocalypse, converged on the Bank of England in the ‘Financial Fools’ day’ protest as demonstrators chanted “storm the banks”.

Shortly after 1pm, live television pictures showed some of the crowd smashing windows at an RBS building. An FT reporter at the scene said: “They’re going into RBS and they are urinating in the bank.” The words “Burn” and “Thieves” could be seen daubed on the outside of the building. The bank was rescued with taxpayers’ money last autumn and its former chief executive Sir Fred Goodwin has been villified over his £700,000 a year pension.

Scotland Yard said around 4,000 people had gathered outside the Bank and cordons had been put up in response to “increasing levels of violence”. Reuters reported that the RBS building, which appeared to be empty, was hit by a hail of missiles including plastic bottles and toilet rolls. Around 300 to 400 protesters attacked the offices, shouting: ”These streets, our streets! These banks, our banks!”

Police then charged the crowd outside the building. Elsewhere, ranks of officers in fluorescent yellow jackets coralled protesters along the roads outside the Bank of England and tried to keep the separate marches apart.

Some protesters were carrying coffins, while others covered their faces with hoods and scarves. The protests were initially largely peaceful, if noisy, although some small groups of about 50 hard-core protesters tried to push through police lines and there were occasional scuffles. Eleven arrests have been reported so far.

As the chanting marchers snaked down Broad Street, flanked by banks to their left and right, chaotic scenes erupted. Office workers were standing faces pressed against glass windows looking down onto the crowds in the street below. Protestors met derision from some City workers who waved £10 notes from their offices at marchers on the streets below, Reuters reported.

Some of the banners read: “Balls to the Bankers”, “Eat the Bankers”, “Capitalism Isn’t Working” and “What a Load of Bankers”. One group of protesters urged people watching from the top of Santander bank to “jump”.

While the main focus of the protest was directed against bankers, anarchist, environmental and anti-war groups were also among the marchers protesting together under the G20 Meltdown banner.

Olivier Dale, a 28 year old attending the demonstration said: ”I am sick of these bankers and this greed. It has got to stop. We have to make a stand. But we want it to be peaceful.”

One protester wearing a balaclava and carrying a sign saying ” welcome to pig city” and who declined to be named said: ”I am an anti-capitalist, I am an anarchist. It’s a rich man’s club. I believe in class war. It is poor versus rich, as simple as that. ”

The protests have caused some shops to remain shut for the day. ”Following police advice regarding the G20 protests we have taken the decision to close this store today,” read a sign outside a Robert Dyas store on Moorgate.

City staff had earlier arrived for work in defiant mood but wearing casual clothes.

Most big employers – including the global investment banks and law firms – told employees they were expected to come into work as usual. But those near locations where demonstrations were held told staff to dress inconspicuously and avoid drawing attention to themselves.

Workers appeared to heed the calls for greater vigilance. UBS posted security guards outside the bank’s main building next to Liverpool Street station, and there were unusual scenes of staff turning up to work in leather jackets and beanie hats.

Andrew, a recruiter, said: “I don’t think City workers have dressed to blend with anarchists. However, the pinstripe count is down today and jeans and smart casual seem to be the order of the day.”

Michael, an accountant, said: ”Having to alter the way we dress is absurd. This is all a bit much.”

Mary, who works as a secretary in a bank, said: “You wouldn’t catch me in a suit today. It’s frightening. The papers have said these people may get violent. But I don’t blame them.”

Others, however, defied the dress-down advice. Zak Abdin, an IT project manager, was sporting a suit on the Northern Line. ”My boss told me I had to,” he said. “I’ve got a meeting at Tower Hill.”

At the so-called “climate camp” in Bishopsgate, there was a carnival atmosphere as protesters set up a barricade of tents in the middle of the street.

Curious City workers peered out of their windows at the site below, where protesters including teenagers and pensioners sported fancy dress outfits, colourful banners and flowers.

Tim Martin, a bond fund manager, said: ”I think its a cool – a carnival atmosphere.

”A lot of City workers probably support what’s going on today. People in the City have been shown to be incompetent– look at the rating agencies or the Bank of England.”

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2009

G20 protestors break into bank ahead of summit

LONDON (AFP) - - Angry protestors smashed through police lines and broke into a bank in London's financial district on Wednesday, amid ugly scenes on the eve of a major economic summit here.

Riot police on horseback were deployed to push back demonstrators who attacked a branch of the state-controlled lender Royal Bank of Scotland in central London.

Thousands of angry anti-capitalist demonstrators, meanwhile, surrounded the Bank of England in the British capital's financial district, while anti-war activists protested outside the US embassy in west London.

Riot police could be seen inside the RBS branch, trying to prevent demonstrators from entering the building, as other protestors threw missiles including bottles, cans and shoes at police outside.

"Scum" and "Beat inflation -- eat the rich," were sprayed in graffiti on the ouside of the branch, which was closed for the day.

At one point a protestor in a black balaclava pulled himself up to get into a window of the bank, but a policeman wielding a riot shield repelled him from inside.

Outside the Bank of England, frontline activists scuffled with police, hurling taunts, paint bombs and fruit, while police responded with occasional baton blows to keep masked demonstrators back.

Eleven people were arrested after a renovated armoured personnel carrier was stopped near the financial district, a police spokesman said. The group inside had at least one police uniform.

Police estimated about 4,000 demonstrators were in the streets of the main banking district.

About 5,000 officers were deployed to protect US President Barack Obama, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and other Group of 20 leaders who will hold a summit on Thursday.

Anti-globalisation and anti-war protesters and climate campaigners joined with activists demanding more help for the poor and the punishment of bankers they blame for the economic crisis.

In one street, a band played reggae and rock music while a shop dummy dressed as a banker was hanged by a noose from a lamp post and fake money was thrown in the air.

A protestor dressed as the Grim Reaper led the rally to Britain's central bank, where demonstrators chanted: "Build a bonfire, build a bonfire. Put the bankers on the top."

The Times newspaper described the pre-summit security lockdown as "Fortress London".

The possibility of a terror attack is also taken seriously, and while there is no specific intelligence police are on high alert with the national terror threat level at "severe", meaning an attack is "highly likely."

All leave for London police has been cancelled and reinforcements were called in from other forces.

Officers began searching the summit venue, the ExCel Centre in London's Docklands, and other key sites last week, while a marine unit patrolled the River Thames. Across the river from the centre, a banner read: "Smash Capitalism".

The mix of causes -- ranging from action on climate change to demands for an end to Western involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan -- could be seen in the banners. "Can we overthrow the government? Yes we can!" said one banner in the streets referring to US President Obama's election campaign slogan.

Other protestors carried a giant yellow canary on a stretcher, with a sign reading "RIP Canary Wharf, 1990-2009", referring to the east London area dominated by investment banks and finance firms.

Aso lays bare G20 split on downturn

By Mure Dickie in Tokyo
March 31 2009 23:40

Taro Aso has dismissed Angela Merkel’s warnings about the risks of excessive public spending in the global downturn, saying Germany has failed to understand why strong fiscal action is vital for recovery.

The Japanese prime minister’s remarks – made in an interview with the Financial Times – underline the wide differences among world leaders as they head to London for Thursday’s G20 meeting on the global slump.

Ms Merkel, German chancellor, said last week that spending more public money as part of a co-ordinated stimulus risked creating an unsustainable recovery.

However, Mr Aso said that what his country went through after its asset price bubble burst in the early 1990s made clear that fiscal stimulus played a critical role in restoring growth.

“Because of the experience of the past 15 years, we know what is necessary, whilst countries like the US and European countries may be facing this sort of situation for the first time,” Mr Aso said. “I think there are countries that understand the importance of fiscal mobilisation and there are some other countries that do not – which is why, I believe, Germany has come up with their views.”

In a further sign of tensions ahead of Thursday’s summit, Nicolas Sarkozy, France’s president, has threatened to walk away from the negotiating table if his demands are not met.

Mr Sarkozy reportedly told cabinet colleagues on Monday that there would be “an empty chair” – a reference to Charles de Gaulle’s seven-month boycott of the European Economic Community in 1965 – if he was not satisfied, although diplomats in Paris later downplayed his comments.

Ms Merkel has cited Germany’s heavy public debt as a reason for caution on spending, but Japan – which, along with Germany and China, has been accused of contributing to global economic imbalances by running structural trade surpluses – has record government liabilities equivalent to more than 170 per cent of GDP.

Mr Aso said a Japanese stimulus package outlined on Tuesday would “mobilise all available means” to prevent the world’s second largest economy’s “floor” from “falling out”. The prime minister, whose government is already implementing stimulus spending measures worth about Y12,000bn ($120bn), said it was too early to talk about the likely scale of the new package. However, ruling party politicians have suggested it include fiscal spending of about Y20,000bn.

Saying Japan was ready to “take the lead” in global efforts to address the slump, Mr Aso said Tokyo would provide more than $22bn in additional trade financing assistance and give global coverage to a trade insurance network it announced for the Asia-Pacific region last year.

Japan would also offer Y500bn over the next three years in new overseas development aid for Asian countries suffering from the global downturn and stand by its pledge to double such aid for Africa by 2012, Mr Aso said.

Mr Aso said he would push for stronger funding of the International Monetary Fund through an increase in its New Arrangements to Borrow, while also calling for the proceeds of sales of IMF gold to be used for assistance to the poorest countries and for a fresh allocation of Special Drawing Rights.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2009

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