Protests risk closing London cathedral

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

More than 200 activists have occupied the churchyard in front of the cathedral in the heart of London's financial district to protest 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.

However, St Paul's said the Occupy London Stock Exchange protest was causing a "risk to the life of the cathedral".

Visitor numbers have dropped at the cathedral, one of London's most popular tourist attractions, which is free to enter and relies on donations.

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," it said in a statement.

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

"The cathedral has managed so far to remain open on a reduced basis.

"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."

Clem Baker, 70, a tourist 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. I love it because they're not just letting the world drift."

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."

© 2011 AFP

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