16 april 2019

More than 100 people arrested in London climate change protests

Disruption in capital by Extinction Rebellion demonstrators continues into second day

Matthew Taylor and Damien Gayle, The Guardian, Tue 16 Apr 2019

Police have arrested more than 100 environmental protesters as the Extinction Rebellion demonstrations that brought chaos to central London enter their second day.

Thousands of people blocked four well-known landmarks on Monday – Waterloo Bridge, Marble Arch, Parliament Square and Oxford Circus – to demand urgent action over the escalating climate crisis.

The blockades continued throughout the day but as night fell officers began to arrest people on Waterloo Bridge in an effort to clear it.

Protesters who had spent the night defying police on the bridge were joined by more supporters on Tuesday morning.

Several people had locked and glued themselves to a lorry parked across the bridge while others sat around eating and drinking as police and a steady stream of morning commuters looked on.

One of those glued to the underside of the van, Ben Moss, 42, a company director from Bristol, said he had been there since midnight. “It’s drastic times and drastic times need drastic measures. I am taking personal action and personal responsibility for the ecological and climate crisis.”

He said he was breaking the law for the sake of future generations. “I feel really sorry for the inconvenience we are causing and it is nothing personal, but the inconvenience we will all face if we don’t tackle this will be much, much worse.”

The Metropolitan police said it had arrested 113 protesters overnight but demonstrators said all four sites remained under their control.

Police were no longer arresting people on the bridge on Tuesday morning and officers said they would pursue a “proportionate response” to a “peaceful protest”. Some demonstrators said they expected officers to wait until nightfall before trying again to clear the bridge.

The protests are part of a global campaign organised by the British climate group Extinction Rebellion, with demonstrations planned in 80 cities across 33 countries in the coming days.

The group has called on the UK government to reduce carbon emissions to zero by 2025 and establish a citizens’ assembly to devise an emergency plan of action to tackle climate breakdown and biodiversity loss.

Roger Hallam, one of the movement’s leaders, said on Monday nothing like this had been seen on the streets of London for decades. “What’s amazing about this is for 30 years you have just had that closing up of public space: ‘You can’t do this, you can’t do that, you’ve got to finish then.’

“Suddenly, what Extinction Rebellion has done is actually say: ‘We are doing this.’ And the state is so weak through austerity that they can’t stop us.”

The campaign cites as inspiration the civil rights and suffragette movements and is backed by hundreds of scientists and academics, including the former archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams.

Williams, who took part in the protests on Monday, said the night before that humans had declared war on nature. “We are here tonight to declare that we do not wish to be at war. We wish to make peace with ourselves by making peace with our neighbour Earth and with our God,” he said.

The group wrote to Theresa May on Monday outlining their demands and asking for talks. In the letter, they warned they would escalate their disruptive actions over the coming days and weeks unless the government acted.

“Make no mistake, people are already dying,” the letter said. “In the majority world, indigenous communities are now on the brink of extinction. This crisis is only going to get worse … prime minister, you cannot ignore this crisis any longer. We must act now.”

At Waterloo Bridge, protesters had blocked the crossing over the Thames and turned it into an impromptu garden bridge on Monday, with people bringing trees, flowers and setting up a miniature skate park and stage.

Later, the Met issued an order under section 14 of the Public Order Act, which allows conditions to be imposed on public processions and assemblies.

The order restricted protesters to the area around Marble Arch. A police officer on the bridge said the Met could impose limits on assembly if they felt there was a serious risk of disruption or to public order. “Obviously, sitting down on Waterloo Bridge is a serious disruption to the community,” he said.

Organisers have said they hope the protests will last for several days and that its success depends on the number of people willing to occupy the sites in the days and nights ahead.

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