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Anti-cuts march in London draws hundreds of thousands as police battle rioters

guardian.uk

Sunday 27 March 2011 02.25 BST

Turnout for generally good-natured rally exceeds organisers’ expectations, but mood marred by violent minority

Video roundup of the day and interviews with marchers

More than a quarter of a million people have marched through central London to deliver a powerful message about the government’s cuts in public spending. The generally good-natured mood was soured by violent and destructive attacks on symbols of wealth including the Ritz, banks and a luxury car dealer, and an occupation of the upmarket food store Fortnum and Mason.

Trade union organisers said that the turnout had exceeded their expectations, and thousands had travelled by coach and by train from as far as Edinburgh to vent their anger at the government’s cuts by marching through London to a rally in Hyde Park.

Dave Prentis, general secretary of Unison, the public service trade union, said that the turnout was “absolutely enormous and showed the anger of ordinary working people”.

But the day was marred by a violent minority of anarchists who went on the rampage, smashing windows and attacking property around Oxford Street. Prentis said he regretted that the actions of “a few hundred” risked diverting attention from the message that the “political heat is rising on the government”.

At one stage 13 shops in Oxford Street were closed following skirmishes between activists and riot police. Topshop – owned by Sir Philip Green, who has been accused of tax avoidance – and HSBC had windows smashed, while paint and bottles were thrown at a Royal Bank of Scotland branch. A dozen police officers were surrounded and beaten by a masked mob in Sackville Street, off Piccadilly.

Police said 211 people were arrested for offences including using threatening or insulting words or behaviour, criminal damage, aggravated trespass, violent disorder and for going equipped with intent to cause criminal damage. They said video evidence would be used to make further arrests.

Thirteen officers were injured, and one was among 16 people taken to hospital. A total of 66 people were treated for injuries. By mid-afternoon the main focus of police activity was a sit-in at the upmarket grocers Fortnum and Mason, organised by anti-tax evasion activist group UK Uncut. Hundreds of riot police sealed off the area.

Last night police appealed to people not involved in the disorder to leave Trafalgar Square as they came under increased bombardment from a group of protesters who said they planned to stay there all night. The protesters were throwing items such as coins and water bottles. Scotland Yard said that light bulbs filled with ammonia had also been thrown at officers earlier. But Commander Bob Broadhurst, the Scotland Yard officer in charge of policing the protests, said the TUC had done an excellent job in ensuring that the march was “very professional, very well prepared”. But he said a hardcore element had been intent on making trouble.

“Unfortunately we’ve had in the region of 500-plus criminals – people hiding under the pretence of the TUC march – who have caused considerable damage, attacked police officers, attacked police vehicles and scared the general public. Unfortunately, because of their mobility and the fact they are aware of some of our tactics, we have been unable to contain them and so we have had these groups wandering around the central London area.”

Broadhurst said they had learned lessons from the student protests last year, which were heavily criticised for the use of “kettling”. “We’ve worked hard on communication, making people aware by using text and Twitter and a better informed website,” he said.

The main group of marchers demonstrated peacefully and walked along the planned route from Embankment to Hyde Park. Steel bands, choirs and dancers performed while the mass of people, many with their children, blew horns and whistles as they passed alongside parliament

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