'Keep Calm & Occupy London': protestors pitch up in City
Several hundred anti-capitalist protesters set up camp before St Paul's Cathedral this weekend, pitching tents, politely waving placards, and even setting up a makeshift kitchen.
The "Occupy London" demonstration -- which began Saturday as part of global protests against corporate greed and state cutbacks -- had dwindled to some 200 people in the Sunday afternoon autumn sunshine as it entered a second day.
There were about 70 tents close to the cathedral, an AFP reporter witnessed, but the demonstration was greatly reduced from Saturday when 2,000-3,000 people had joined the protest, according to various media reports.
"We will stay as long as we need to," said graphic designer Justin, 27, who declined to give his surname, adding that he was protesting due to "disillusion with our current economic system".
The Europe-wide protests -- ranging from Amsterdam to Frankfurt, and London to Rome -- were inspired by the "Occupy Wall Street" movement which was born in New York earlier this year amid growing public anger over the financial sector.
"I've been following the movement since it started in May and I've been looking forward very much to see it in London," teacher Frank Mills, 21, told AFP.
The Metropolitan Police has described the London event as largely calm and peaceful, while a total of just eight people have been arrested for mostly public order offences.
Police have meanwhile blocked off access to nearby Paternoster Square, which is where the London Stock Exchange is situated, amid fears that rally organisers OccupyLSX could target the building.
Protest placards told their own story of quiet outrage, particularly over the behaviour of the banking sector in the run-up to the global financial crisis -- and contrasting bank bailouts with painful public spending cuts.
"Keep Calm And Occupy London", read one banner, while one declared: "Bail out people, Not the banks". Another stated simply: "We are 99%".
Demonstrators described their protest as a "general people assembly" with no leader and no hierarchy.
A rudimentary kitchen was set up -- effectively a long table filled with cake, biscuits and bottles of water -- as well as a media tent and a medical centre.
"We've been sold the idea that austerity packages are necessary, but it's only bringing recession," added graphic designer Justin.
"Banks are granting bonuses and they're not paying back a single penny.
"There needs to be a greater sense of accountability, greater regulation. The banks have been given free reign by deregulation."
The BBC initially reported that 500 people had camped overnight outside St Paul's. But organisers said just 250 people had spent the night there.
Despite the sharp drop in the number of protesters, the mood remained upbeat, with volunteers filling bin bags to prevent pollution of the surroundings of the 17th century cathedral.
© 2011 AFP