British parliament protest camp removed in pre-dawn raid

20th July 2010, Comments 0 comments

Bailiffs cleared away a sprawling protest camp in front of the British parliament in a pre-dawn raid Tuesday, though evicted demonstrators vowed to re-appear elsewhere in London.

Officials descended at 1:00 am (0000 GMT) on Parliament Square, in the heart of the city, to drag away a few dozen protesters and remove the ramshackle collection of tents, banners and straw bales used as toilets.

The protesters had been camped on the grassy square since May 1 to protest against the war in Afghanistan and a range of other issues, but a court ruled last week that their "Democracy Village" could not remain.

It took about 60 bailiffs four hours to remove the protesters after a few tied themselves to scaffolding.

Some of the protesters complained they had been roughly treated.

Activist Howard Rees, 30, said the eviction was "pretty unpleasant" and claimed the bailiffs were "pretty brutal".

"They were putting the boot into people while they were on the floor," he told AFP.

But London's Metropolitan Police said no arrests were made.

A fence was thrown up around the square, while cleaners got to work on the mess left behind by the demonstrators.

Parliament Square contains the statues of Winston Churchill, Nelson Mandela and Abraham Lincoln.

It sits amid UNESCO World Heritage Sites, including the iconic Palace of Westminster parliament building, and the historic Westminster Abbey.

But London authorities said it had been turned into a squalid, nauseating eyesore by the protesters, who were stopping the general public from enjoying the square.

The activists on Friday lost an appeal against eviction in a battle with London Mayor Boris Johnson.

By the morning rush hour, at least a dozen demonstrators remained at the site.

"People from 'Democracy Village' are going to carry on with this protest. We're not going away," said Pete Phoenix, a 36-year-old protester with blond dreadlocks and sunglasses.

"Lots of areas around the city are going to be taken over in the next few days and weeks.

"Our spirit is stronger after this eviction," he told AFP, saying the camp had "raised awareness around the world" about Britain's involvement in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Workers at the square said it would be re-turfed due to the damage caused to the grass by protesters.

The High Court in London granted eviction orders last month sought by Johnson, but their enforcement was delayed pending the outcome of the appeal.

In the appeal ruling Friday, judge David Neuberger said that although the land was owned by the Crown, the mayor of London had power to act over the square.

"We are relieved this dreadful blight of Parliament Square has finally come to an end, and look forward to it being restored to its previous condition so all Londoners can visit and enjoy it," Westminster City Council leader Colin Barrow said on Tuesday.

He said authorities "must find a way to help prevent it being hijacked by vociferous minorities whose primary intent seems to turn this World Heritage Site into a squalid campsite."

A hand-written list of items removed from the square and seen by AFP included 20 tents, 20 to 30 sleeping bags, quilts and pillows, flags, a music system, a beer barrel and, curiously, a sail boat.

The eviction does not affect veteran protester Brian Haw, who has been camped on the roadside opposite parliament since 2001.

Haw has not been glad of the company, calling the "Democracy Village" protesters "deliberately unreasonable, even depraved and outrageous".

© 2010 AFP

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