Anti-cuts protesters occupy top London store

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Protesters from an anti-cuts group said they had occupied a major shop in the heart of London on Saturday after breaking away from a huge demonstration against government austerity measures.

Demonstrators from UK Uncut, which has been running a campaign against government cuts and corporate tax avoidance, entered luxury food store Fortnum & Mason.

Police in riot gear were in a standoff with a crowd of protesters outside the store amid escalating violence following the earlier peaceful march

"UK Uncut occupy Fortnum & Mason and aim to stay for as long as possible," the group said in a statement on its website. They accuse the owners of the store of tax-dodging.

UK Uncut activists were among the breakaway group that left the main march through London, and headed to the capital's principal shopping district where scuffles with police broke out.

Commander Bob Broadhurst from London's Metropolitan Police said some 500 people were behind the outbreaks of disorder that started away from the march, which was called "March for the Alternative."

There have been nine arrests for offences including criminal damage and violent disorder, police said.

"The main TUC (Trades Union Congress) march has been going well," said Broadhurst.

"Unfortunately we have had a group of approximately 500 criminals committing some disorder."

"That has been concerning but we are on top of it," he added.

There were 4,500 police officers deployed to keep order but they could not stop outbreaks of violence.

As well as occupying Fortnum & Mason, the black-clad protesers broke into a branch of bank HSBC and hurled missiles at London's landmark Ritz Hotel.

They also started a bonfire at Oxford Circus, in the heart of London's shopping district.

Serious violence hit student protests against plans to triple tuition fees late last year.

© 2011 AFP

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