LONDON: Half-A-Million People March In Protest Against Government Austerity Cuts: UPDATED

26 Mar

Hundreds of thousands of protesters from across the UK have staged a mass demonstration in London against cuts in public spending.

Cuts protesters attack Topshop Play video

Video: Cuts protesters attack Topshop

Video: Ed Balls backing mass protest

TUC sources estimated up to half a million activists had taken to the streets in the biggest protest for years.

The protest was largely peaceful but a breakaway group of hundreds of demonstrators attacked shops and banks in the Oxford Street area.

Topshop and HSBC had their windows smashed, while paint and glass bottles were thrown at a Royal Bank of Scotland branch.

Fireworks and flares were set off and a handful of activists scuffled with police.

Scotland Yard said light bulbs filled with ammonia were thrown at officers. One man was arrested on suspicion of going equipped to commit criminal damage.

But the main group of the marchers demonstrated peacefully and walked along the pre-planned route from Embankment to Hyde Park.

NEWS UPDATE:

A small group of protesters smashed windows and attempted to occupy shops in central London – as tens of thousands of people marched against government cuts.

Scuffles As Workers Protest Against Cuts Play video

Anti-capitalists and anarchists attacked branches of HSBC, Lloyds and Santander banks as well as McDonalds, Topshop and Dorothy Perkins. The windows of the Ritz hotel and an Ann Summers store in Soho were smashed.

Light bulbs filled with ammonia and paint bombs were thrown in Oxford Street, police said. 

However, the majority of the demonstration – dubbed the “March for the Alternative” – was peaceful with organisers claiming up to 500,000 people had taken part.

Police commander Bob Broadhurst said about 150 people, who had nothing to do with the march organised by the Trade Union Congress, were responsible for the violence. 

He described them as “criminals, not protesters”, saying they were mainly young and masked. 

Sky’s Mark White in Oxford Street said: “There are a lot of protesters here who have come from different areas of central London where they have been taking part in fairly radical and sporadic action outside various stores.

“Its all about trying to stay one step of the police, give them the run around and try and cause as much mayhem as possible.

“There are certainly enough police officers in the side streets should the situation develop but remember there are lots of members of the public around here as well.” 

White said he had seen “paint bombs, smoke bombs and heavier objects” being thrown.

More than 4,500 police officers were on duty for the march.

The march – the biggest union-organised event for more than 20 years and the largest in the country since the anti-Iraq war march in 2003 – set off early from Embankment because of the huge number of protesters.

“This is an absolutely incredible turnout and display of anger which the Government will have to take notice of,” Len McCluskey, the general secretary of the Unite union, said.

The protesters brought central London to a standstill, waving banners and blowing vuvuzelas.

TUC head of economic affairs Nicola smith said the marchers were “trade union members, but also public sector workers, pensioners, people from a whole range of community groups, people with their families, all joining together to send a message to the Government that there is an alternative”.

“The alternative is a deficit reduction strategy that focuses on growth and the role that tax can play in making sure our public finances are put on a sustainable footing.”

:: Read about grandmother Tina Taylor who is marching because of cutbacks to healthcare services.

Labour leader Ed Miliband told a rally in Hyde Park: “Our struggle is to fight to preserve, protect and defend the things we value.

“The Government will say this is a march of the minority. They are so wrong. David Cameron you want to create a Big Society, this is the Big Society. The Big Society united against what your government is doing to our society.”.

More than 600 coaches and dozens of trains brought people to the capital, with many more unable to get to London because of the massive demand for transport.

Unite’s Len McCluskey said those taking part in the march were the “tip of the iceberg” because millions were opposed to the Government’s cuts in public spending.

“There is growing anger, which will build and 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.

:: Read about careers adviser Jayne Bogan who is marching because of cutbacks to education services.

An opinion poll suggested that most people sympathise with the TUC’s stance.

Asked by YouGov whether they supported or opposed today’s march, 52% said they supported it, 31% opposed it, while 17% said they did not know.

Perhaps surprisingly, 19% of Conservative voters said they supported the march.

Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude told Sky News that the Government was already “actively engaging” with the TUC over many of the issues being highlighted at the march.

“There are six million public sector workers and a lot of them will obviously be worried about the effect of cuts,” he said.

“What we are doing is trying to protect jobs as best we can, putting in place lots of controls, we’re taking out the overhead costs of government, we’re squeezing suppliers, we’re coming out of property.”

The police operation will be closely scrutinised after criticism of the handling of recent demonstrations.

When student protests turned violent before Christmas, the policy of “kettling” – or containing protesters in a confined space to stop trouble spreading – was called into question.

Human rights group Liberty have been allowed into the police control room during the march to monitor the response.

Director of policy Isabella Sankey told Sky News: “We are going to be observing what police are doing and then we are going to be calling it as we see it.

“The police have all sorts of powers at there disposal … and we’ve seen that peaceful protest has been undermined by misuse and abuse of those powers.”

The march comes three days after the Budget, in which the Chancellor underlined the Government’s determination to tackle the deficit.

A breakaway group of hundreds of protesters has disrupted traffic in London’s main shopping district.

Protesters attack HSBC and storm Fortnum and Mason Play video

Video: Protesters attack HSBC and storm Fortnum and Mason

Fireworks and flares were set off as they marched past Piccadilly Circus to Oxford Street and Regent Street.

Topshop and HSBC had their windows smashed, while paint and glass bottles were thrown at a Royal Bank of Scotland branch.

Damage has also been caused to the Ritz Hotel and activists have occupied the department store Fortnum and Mason.

However, police say tens of thousands of demonstrators have been protesting

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