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Up to 500,000 people rally against the government in London, UK

 
 
 
 
 
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Protesters on the anti-cuts march at the rally in Hyde Park, London.

These are the scenes in central London tonight as riot police struggle to control anti-capitalist protesters following the TUC’s national demonstration against the cuts.

Violence broke out in iconic London locations after splinter groups of activists broke away from the main demonstration and spread out across the centre of the city.

The Ritz hotel and Fortnum & Mason were among the buildings targeted in the capital as groups of rampaging youths fought running battles with riot police.

Clashes look set to continue into the night, as police use containment tactics to try to bring the mob under control.

Earlier, around 500,000 activists and campaigners descended on London this morning to protest at the Government’s drastic cuts programme.

But while the main march and rally in Hyde Park, which was addressed by Labour leader Ed Miliband, remained peaceful, splinter groups of anarchists went wild.

Hundreds of activists – many wearing masks and hoods – disrupted traffic, set off fireworks and flares in the busiest areas of the city including Piccadilly Circus, Oxford Street and Regent Street.

Lightbulbs filled with ammonia and paintbombs were thrown at police as they desperately tried to keep the peace.

Topshop and HSBC had their windows smashed, while paint and glass bottles were thrown at a Royal Bank of Scotland branch. The marauders also attacked The Ritz near Green Park, where they smashed windows with bins and road signs.

UK Uncut, an anti-cuts direct action group, later occupied the Fortnum & Mason store in Piccadilly, claiming the firm had ‘dodged’ paying taxes.

Civil disobedience: Demonstrators throw a road sign at a window of the Ritz Hotel.

Nine arrests were made and some police officers were injured.

The event, organised by the TUC, is believed to be the largest march since up to a million took to the streets in 2003 to oppose the war in Iraq. By 3pm, estimated participation was at 500,000.

TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said he ‘bitterly regretted’ the violence, adding that he hoped it would not detract from the massive anti-cuts protest.

‘I don’t think the activities of a few hundred people should take the focus away from the hundreds of thousands of people who have sent a powerful message to the Government today,’ he said.

‘Ministers should now seriously reconsider their whole strategy after today’s demonstration. This has been Middle Britain speaking.’

Mr Barber said unions would now step up pressure on the Government, especially MPs in their constituencies, and launch a series of protests next week in defence of the NHS.

London Ambulance Service said 30 people were treated for injuries throughout the day, 11 of whom were taken to hospital, ranging from assault to collapsing with illness.

Commander Bob Broadhurst said: ‘The main march has gone very well. Their estimates are 250,000 – maybe more – have come to central London and protested peacefully. That has gone as we expected.

‘Unfortunately, we have had over 500 criminals effectively attacking premises in the Oxford Circus area, causing damage.

‘We anticipated there would be some problems. We have minimised the damage caused. We’ll never have enough officers to protect every building in central London. it cannot be done.

‘The actual march has gone according to plan. Those damaging buildings have had nothing to do with the TUC.’

Mr Miliband defied calls to stay away in case the protest descended into anarchy and attempted to use the occasion to argue that his party offered an ‘alternative’.

The Labour leader described the gathering as ‘extraordinary’ and declared himself ‘profoundly moved’. He even likened the action to the anti-apartheid movement.

‘We come in the tradition of movements that have marched in peaceful but powerful protest for justice, fairness and political change,’ he said.

‘The suffragettes who fought for votes for women and won. The civil rights movement in America that fought against racism and won.

‘The anti apartheid movement that fought the horror of that system and won. The cause may be different but in coming together today to realise our voice, we are standing on the shoulders of those who have marched and struggled for great causes in the past.

‘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. We know what the government will say: that this is a march of the minority. They are so wrong.’

He added: ‘David Cameron: you wanted to create the big society. This is the big society. The big society united against what your government is doing to our country. We stand today not as the minority, but as the voice of the mainstream majority in this country.’

The demonstration was divided between chaos and peaceful action, with nurses, midwives, Gurkhas and teachers all on the streets.

Dave Prentis, general secretary of Unison, said the turnout was ‘absolutely enormous and showed the anger of ordinary working people at the Government’s cuts’.

As police fought with the violent fringe, the main group of marchers demonstrated peacefully and walked along the planned route without conflict.

Steel bands, choirs, performers and dancers performed while the mass of people, many with their children in tow, blew horns and whistles as they passed alongside Parliament.

Earlier, Education Secretary Michael Gove acknowledged the public concerns about the planned cuts, but insisted that the Government would not be deflected from its strategy.

‘Of course people will feel a sense of disquiet, in some cases anger, at what they see happening, but the difficulty we have as the Government inheriting a terrible economic mess, is that we have to take steps to bring the public finances back into balance,’ he said.

Activists’ websites had shown how they organised a ‘huge explosion of class hatred and anger’, specifically targeting banks and shops on Oxford Street.

Trade union leaders, who put on 600 coaches and nine trains to ferry protesters to the capital, insisted they only wanted a ‘safe, well-stewarded and family-friendly event’

But Len McCluskey, leader of the country’s biggest union, ramped up the rhetoric, saying anger towards cuts in public spending ‘needs to find a release’.

Scotland Yard have 4,500 officers on the streets and have warned they will use controversial ‘kettling’ techniques where necessary.

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