Protesters inspired by the growing ‘Occupy Wall Street’ movement in the U.S have today taken over the City of London.
Thousands have descended on the area known as the Square Mile – under the banner ‘Occupy the Stock Exchange’ – for a ‘peaceful protest’ against the global financial system.
They had planned to take Paternoster Square, where the Stock Exchange is located, but police cordoned off the area prior to the protest.
A notice was put up stating the square is private property and access would be restricted. Police sources said a High Court injunction had been taken out to prevent members of the public from accessing the square.
The event kicked off at midday outside St Paul’s Cathedral and initial reports on Twitter talked of an ‘amiable’ atmosphere.
Activists carried banners with slogans such as ‘We are the 99%’ and ‘Bankers got a bailout, we got sold out’.
Among them was Lorena Fuentes, 27, a charity worker originally from Vancouver, Canada. She said: ‘I’m here today because I can’t see why you wouldn’t be and I feel that this is one of the few moments in history where it’s not a protest, it’s an actual movement that’s taken root.
‘We’re trying to challenge this myth that there are not enough resources to go around.’
The protest was contained within the vicinity of St Paul’s Cathedral, and some demonstrators started to put up tents – hopeful that they will be able to remain in the area for the future.
At around 2pm, police reportedly ‘kettled’ protesters outside St Paul’s Cathedral, where the demonstrators were forced to move because of the closure of Paternoster Square.
Scotland Yard said two arrests were made for assaults on police officers.
After protesters returned to St Paul’s Churchyard, the square in front of the cathedral, police prevented more people trying to join the protest by cutting off access points.
Several hundred protesters congregated behind the police lines and heckled officers for not allowing anyone through.
Police at the scene denied that a “kettling” technique had been put in place to close protesters in and said they were free to leave the square.
A bride, who was scheduled to get married in the Cathedral this afternoon, was ushered in by staff through a side entrance as the crowd swelled.
An assembly of speakers then took place.
Wikileaks’ Julian Assange, who turned up at the protest wearing a mask, was asked to take it off by police. Human rights lawyer Jen Robinson, who came to his aid, tweeted: ‘#assange not under arrest. Says we can’t wear masks and be anonymous but swiss banks accounts can be #occupylsx.’
He broke through the police kettle enclosing St Paul’s Cathedral at 2.30pm. He then fought his way through protesters, turned half-way up the steps and addressed those gathered below.
The Guardian’s Mark Townsend said: ‘Assange began by lamenting the police tactics, noting hundreds more remained stranded outside the kettle.
‘Then he began attacking a greedy and corrupt system that had united individuals from Cairo to London. People are being ordered to Guantanamo Bay to obey the rule of law, and money is being laundered through the Caymen Islands and London to obey the rule of law.
‘This movement is not about the destruction of law, but the construction of law. With that he stopped, the crowd hollering as a list of other occupations throughout the world was read out.’
Political campaigner Peter Tatchell also spoke to the crowds and proposed a one-off 20 per cent emergency tax on the net wealth of the richest 10 per cent of the UK population.
He also wants the introduction of a ‘Tobin Tax’ on financial transactions.
He said: ‘The richest 10 per cent of the UK population have a combined personal wealth of £4 million, million. A one-off 20 per cent tax on those people would raise £800 billion.
‘Those people can afford it, they’d feel no pain, they’re so fabulously wealthy. With that sum of money you could pay off the entire government deficit. No need for any public spending cuts.’
At the same time, he said a Tobin Tax would ‘reduce speculation and be good for the economy, and raise at least £100 billion a year. Within two years this would enable us to clear the entire Government deficit.’
‘Rich people who are not prepared to pay their way are traitors to this country, they’re putting their own personal selfishness before the interests of the public,’ he added.
The Occupy London Stock Exchange collective, which is supported by UK Uncut, said a Facebook page on the protest had attracted more than 13,000 followers, with more than 5,000 confirmed attendees.
Laura Taylor, a supporter of the so-called OccupyLSX, said: ‘Why are we paying for a crisis the banks caused? More than a million people have lost their jobs and tens of thousands of homes have been repossessed, while small businesses are struggling to survive.
‘Yet bankers continue to make billions in profit and pay themselves enormous bonuses, even after we bailed them out with £850 billion.’
Another supporter, Kai Wargalla, said: ‘This is a people-powered movement protesting against the increasing social and economic injustice in the UK.
‘We want to stand with the 99% – the overwhelming majority who value people over profit.
‘We want to make our voices heard against greed, corruption and for a democratic, just society. We stand in solidarity with Occupy Wall Street, protesters in Spain, Greece and the Middle East who started this movement.
‘They have inspired people all over the world to step forward and make their voices heard.’
UK Uncut supporter Peter Hodgson added: ‘The success of the square occupations across Spain in calling for democracy and an end to austerity, alongside the rapid growth of the Wall Street occupation, has shown that this is what is needed in London and the UK.
‘The Government is ignoring its electorate as they impose these austerity measures.’
OccupyLSX previously issued a statement which said: ‘The words corporate greed ring through the speeches and banners of protests across the globe.
‘After huge bailouts and in the face of unemployment, privatisation and austerity, we still see profits for the rich on the increase. But we are the 99%, and on October 15 our voice unites across gender and race, across borders and continents, as we call for equality and justice for all.
‘In London, we will occupy the Stock Exchange. Reclaiming space in the face of the financial system and using it to voice ideas for how we can work towards a better future.
‘A future free from austerity, growing inequality, unemployment, tax injustice and a political elite who ignores its citizens, and work towards concrete demands to be met.’
Occupy LSX was behind a protest that saw Westminster Bridge closed on Monday.
According to its website occupations are also being planned in other areas of the country, including Worcester, Nottingham, Edinburgh, Liverpool and Bristol.
The London protests have been inspired by the U.S.’s Occupy Wall Street and Spain’s Indignant movement.
Thousands have also taken to the streets in Sydney, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Rome, and Sydney.
The organisers, relying heavily on Facebook and Twitter, say demonstrations will also be held in 951 cities across 82 countries in Europe, North America, Latin America, Asia and Africa.
The ‘indignant’ protests first took hold in Spain, which has a jobless rate of 20.89 per cent rising to 46.1 per cent for 16-24 year olds.
Activists lived in a ramshackle camp in Madrid’s Puerta del Sol for a month. The movement then spread to the U.S. and Europe.
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