Protests could force closure of London cathedral

20th October 2011, Comments 0 comments

London landmark St Paul's Cathedral could be forced to close by anti-capitalist demonstrators who have set up a sprawling encampment outside the historic church, its management said Thursday.

Activists have pitched nearly 150 tents in front of the domed cathedral in the heart of London's financial district to protest against corporate greed and state cutbacks.

The "Occupy London Stock Exchange" protesters, inspired by the "Occupy Wall Street" movement born in New York, set up camp on Saturday, when about 1,000 people were involved in scuffles with police.

The St Paul's Dean and Chapter, the governing body of the cathedral, said the growing size of the London camp -- there were just 70 tents at the weekend -- was causing a "risk to the life of the cathedral".

A path has been cleared through the tents to allow a route to the main entrance, but visitor numbers have dropped at the cathedral, one of London's most popular tourist attractions, since the protest began.

St Paul's is "still trying to provide worship and welcome to all in spite of the presence of the protest camp in the churchyard," a statement from the church said.

The cathedral's management "asked everyone to respect this need and to acknowledge the risk to the life of the cathedral posed by the current situation.

"The increased scale and nature of the protest camp is such that to act safely and responsibly the cathedral must now review the extent to which it can remain open for the many thousands coming this week as worshippers, visitors and in school parties.

"Is it now time for the protest camp to leave? The consequences of a decision to close St Paul's cannot be taken lightly."

A spokesman for the Occupy London protest said the activists were in touch with St. Paul's staff, who are constantly surveying the site.

"We have a liaison team who work with the church. We haven't been asked to leave," the spokesman told AFP.

"The church had been very good to us so far, so we're looking at ways to make sure their business is not affected and that visitors have clear access.

"We've heard there may have been a loss of revenue (at St Paul's) and we're looking at ways to help the church recoup that."

The domed cathedral, which hosted the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer in 1981, fully re-opened this year after a 15-year renovation project restored it to its full glory.

Tourists seemed to be unperturbed by the camp -- and most supported the protest.

Clem Baker, 70, from Australia, said: "I've been into St. Paul's this morning and had no problems at all.

"Young people ought to protest more often. Generations now seem to accept the status quo rather than make it. They've been no nuisance."

On the cathedral's possible closure, he said it was "typical of churches: all they are worried about is money. If that's all they are there for then they shouldn't be there at all."

Canadian tourist Ed Dutton, 60, said the protest had not spoiled his visit to the landmark.

"I was expecting fist fights and bricks through windows, but they're just trying to get their message out," Dutton said.

"I'm impressed. It's a little bit of history happening."

© 2011 AFP

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