Protests close London's St Paul's Cathedral

21st October 2011, Comments 0 comments

St Paul's Cathedral said Friday it was closing its doors to the public for the first time in modern history because of anti-capitalist demonstrators camped outside the London landmark.

More than 200 activists inspired by the Occupy Wall Street movement have taken over a paved area in front of the cathedral in the city's financial district since Saturday to protest against corporate greed and state cutbacks.

"I have written an open letter to the protestors this afternoon advising them that we have no lawful alternative but to close St Pauls Cathedral until further notice," said Graeme Knowles, the dean of the cathedral.

"We have done this with a very heavy heart, but it is simply not possible to fulfil our day to day obligations to worshippers, visitors and pilgrims in current circumstances," he said.

Health, fire and safety officers believed there was a fire hazard from stoves, fires and different types of fuel being used near tents, and there was also a "public health aspect" from waste produced by the protesters, he said.

Knowles said the cathedral authorities shared the protesters concerns about social inequality, but hoped they would "recognise that their voice has been legitimately heard, and withdraw peacefully."

He added: "The decision to close St Pauls Cathedral is unprecedented in modern times."

Knowles however refused to condemn the protesters, saying that they had been peaceful so far and that there was "something profound about protest being made and heard in front of this most holy place".

The protest camp has grown from 70 tents at the start to 150.

In a meeting on the steps of the cathedral later Friday, a large group of activists decided they would stay for another night, although a spokesman told AFP they would meet again this weekend to discuss possibly moving.

"We should not be blackmailed into moving," one unnamed female protester told the crowd. "We agree that we should stay. It is too necessary for us to go straight away."

Others meanwhile chanted: "We should not go."

In a statement on the Occupy London website, the protesters said they were disappointed at the cathedral's decision and insisted they had tried to reduce the disruption caused by the camp to a minimum.

They rejected claims they were causing a fire hazard.

The iconic dome of St Paul's has long served as a symbol of London's spirit, particularly during the Luftwaffe's Blitzkrieg bombing campaign in World War II when it escaped damage despite surrounding areas being reduced to rubble.

A church has stood at the site since 604 and the current cathedral, designed by the architect Christopher Wren, was built between 1675 and 1710 after its predecessor had been destroyed in the 1666 Great Fire of London.

Princess Diana and Prince Charles married there in 1981.

The church is normally open to paying visitors for an entry fee of £14.50 (16.50 euros, $23).

Inspired by Occupy Wall Street and Spain's "Indignants", the Occupy London Stock Exchange protesters set up camp on Saturday, when about 1,000 people were involved in scuffles with police.

There were protests in 80 countries at the weekend, some of which turned violent, particularly in Rome, where 135 people were injured.

© 2011 AFP

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