Third day of London anti-banker protests
More than 200 protesters occupied a square in front of St Paul's Cathedral in the heart of London's financial district on Monday for a third day of protests against corporate greed and state cutbacks.
Inspired by the US Occupy Wall Street movement and Spain's "Indignants", the protesters set up camp on Saturday, when about 1,000 people were involved in scuffles with police.
But the scene was far calmer on Monday as the ragtag group of protesters huddled with cups of tea in the autumn sunshine as bankers, lawyers and business people flooded into the area for the start of the working week.
Sitting on the steps of the cathedral near a 20-metre (65-foot) banner reading "Capitalism Is Crisis", unemployed teacher Danielle Allen said the protesters would stay "as long as it takes" to get their message across.
"We're trying to educate people and to show how corrupt the banking system is," the 25-year-old from Surrey, southwest of London, told AFP. "Even if we are in a democracy most of the people feel their voice is not heard."
Another protester, 26-year-old artist Catherine Garrity, said she wanted a fairer tax system where businesses paid their share. "We want to make corporations accountable," she said.
Sophia Samra, a 23-year-old unemployed protester, said she was prepared to stay "as long as it takes to get the message through".
"Bankers, they sit up there, even beyond government, and they think they are untouchable.
"So we are going to stay here as long as it takes to get the message through and we're saying: we know what they are doing and we don't want it. We want change."
The protesters, in a sea of about 100 tents, invoked both bemusement and sympathy from passers-by.
"I think they have a good point," said Neil Hunt, who works in the health sector.
He said the British economy did not appear to be getting any stronger since the financial crisis, but there was a "continuing gap between rich people and the rest of the country".
One financial trader angrily condemned the demonstration, however, saying the protesters were "so wrong".
"Everybody is moaning about the bankers," but at least they pay their taxes, said David Gregory in a heated argument with one jobless protester. "We are paying all the bills. Who is the biggest taxpayer? How much tax do you pay?"
The messages coming from the protesters were far from unified -- some urged freedom for Palestine, some banners condemned globalisation and one tent filled with books was intended to highlight library closures as part of spending cuts.
But there were also numerous references to the Arab Spring, and a fake street sign posted nearby renamed the area Tahrir Square, the epicentre of protests in Cairo that toppled Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak in February.
One sign said: "Banks, IMF are the global Mubarak -- they are undemocratic".
The London encampment was part of a series of Europe-wide anti-capitalist protests at the weekend, with violent scenes in Rome and hundreds of thousands in Madrid.
They claim to represent public anger at the damage wrought by the financial sector during the recession and at the perception that bankers are continuing to be paid huge bonuses while ordinary people are squeezed by spending cuts.
© 2011 AFP