BY YANN TEAR
Police were making concerted attempts to clear up Extinction Rebellion protests camps around central London this week as part of more robust approach to a mass invasion of activists.
Those taking part in the XR demonstrations – to give the movement its widely-used moniker – set up blockades in the heart of Westminster on Monday at the start of what they vowed would be at least two weeks of disruption.
But Met officers arrested 280 people on day one of the protests, which began outside the Ministry of Defence at around 6.15am. That figure had risen to at least 530 by the end of day two.
On the eve of the anticipated invasion of 20-30,000 activists, officers confiscated items destined for the frontline – equipment for building stages and kitchens, portable toilets and ramps for disabled campaigners taking part.
Close to two dozen arrests were also made at the weekend on suspicion of conspiracy to cause public nuisance and police obstruction.
The climate change activists succeeded in halting traffic in Parliament Square, Whitehall, Millbank, The Mall and on Lambeth and Westminster bridges.
Hundreds took part in a sit-in at Smithfield Market, in a bid to draw attention to the role the meat industry plays in deforestation and climate change.
But under a section 14 order banning demonstrations across central London, police operatives in black overalls marched into the Whitehall camp on Tuesday and began snatching tents and tent poles, carrying them away.
A decree was issued by the Met saying: Any assembly linked to the Extinction Rebellion Autumn Uprising must go to Trafalgar Square and only assemble in the pedestrianised area.”
There was no reported violence in retaliation and the mood remained largely peaceful. Rain kept a check on the total number of XR protesters, but more are expected to join in at the weekend.
Police made more than 1,000 arrests when Extinction Rebellion last took over part of central London in April, but they adopted a more softly-softly approach then.
The movement was allowed to set up sound systems and tow a pink painted boat through Oxford Circus, in another piece of eye-catching symbolism.
This time, teams trained to deal with locks and glue have been drafted in from across the country, and all police leave has been cancelled.
Accompanying the sit-ins – which quickly led to traffic chaos in Westminster – there were yoga and dance classes, impromptu games of cricket and speeches – one of which came from the actor Sir Mark Rylance, who is backing the stance taken by the activists. Fellow actor Juliet Stevenson also joined the demonstrators.
Noticeable in the make-up of those taking part in the XR protests has been the diversity. Amid the large helping of young students, there have been concerned participants of all ages and from different walks of life.
But there was not much sympathy from No10, as Prime Minister Boris Johnson dismissed the protesters as “uncooperative crusties” who were blocking the roads with their “heaving hemp-smelling bivouacs.”
He also described them as: “importunate nose-ringed climate change protesters.”
Extinction Rebellion’s aim is to force the government to declare a climate emergency and to take action to save endangered wildlife and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
XR protests are also taking place this week in Amsterdam, Berlin, New York and Sydney.