British parliament protest camp smashed

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Bailiffs cleared away a sprawling protest camp in front of the British parliament in a pre-dawn raid Tuesday, though evicted demonstrators vowed to re-appear elsewhere in London.

Law enforcement officers descended at 1:00 am (0000 GMT) on Parliament Square, in the heart of the city, to remove the ramshackle collection of tents, banners and straw bales used as toilets.

The protesters had been camped on the grassy square since May 1 to protest against the war in Afghanistan and a range of other issues, but a court ruled last week that their "Democracy Village" could not remain.

It took about 60 bailiffs four hours to remove the protesters, the BBC said, with some attempting to resist.

A fence was thrown up around the square, while cleaners got to work on the mess.

Parliament Square contains the statues of Winston Churchill, Nelson Mandela and Abraham Lincoln.

It sits amid UNESCO World Heritage Sites, including the Palace of Westminster -- the complex of buildings which incorporates the Houses of Parliament -- and the historic Westminster Abbey.

But London authorities said it had been turned into a squalid, nauseating eyesore by the protesters, who were stopping the general public from enjoying the square.

The activists on Friday lost an appeal against eviction in a battle with London Mayor Boris Johnson.

By the morning rush hour, at least a dozen demonstrators remained at the site.

"People from 'Democracy Village' are going to carry on with this protest. We're not going away," said Pete Phoenix, a 36-year-old protester with blond dreadlocks and sunglasses.

"Lots of areas around the city are going to be taken over in the next few days and weeks.

"Our spirit is stronger after this eviction," he told AFP, saying the camp had "raised awareness around the world" about Britain's involvement in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Workers at the square said it would be re-turfed because of the damage caused to the grass by protesters.

The High Court in London granted eviction orders last month sought by Johnson, but their enforcement was delayed pending the outcome of the appeal.

In the appeal ruling Friday, judge David Neuberger said that although the land was owned by the Crown, the mayor of London had been given power to act over the square.

"We are relieved this dreadful blight of Parliament Square has finally come to an end, and look forward to it being restored to its previous condition so all Londoners can visit and enjoy it," Westminster City Council leader Colin Barrow said on Tuesday.

"Whilst it is right and proper that it will always be a place where people can voice their opinions, we must find a way to help prevent it being hijacked by vociferous minorities whose primary intent seems to turn this World Heritage Site into a squalid campsite."

A spokeswoman for Johnson said the protest had caused "considerable damage to the site and had prevented its use by others, including lawful protesters".

"The square will now be closed temporarily, during which time the site will be restored for the use of Londoners, visitors to the capital and responsible protesters," she said.

A public notice pinned on the fence reads: "Parliament Square gardens is currently closed to the public due to urgent health, safety and maintenance work."

A hand-written list of items removed from the square and seen by AFP included 20 tents, 20 to 30 sleeping bags, quilts and pillows, flags, a music system, a beer barrel and, curiously, a sail boat.

The eviction does not affect veteran protester Brian Haw, who has been camped on the roadside opposite parliament since 2001.

Haw has not been glad of the company, calling the "Democracy Village" protesters "deliberately unreasonable, even depraved and outrageous".

© 2010 AFP

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