London police
A policeman splashed with paint on London’s Oxford St. Photo by Reuters
Text size

PARIS - An estimated 500,000 people marched through London yesterday to protest the British government's public sector cuts, making their way through parks and spilling into the city center.

Some small breakaway groups of demonstrators reportedly got violent and vandalized businesses along the way.

Among other reported damage, vandals smashed the window of a Starbucks Coffee branch and spray painted anarchy symbols on the front of the building, damaged a branch of HSBC bank, threw paint and bottles through the windows of a Royal Bank of Scotland branch, and tossed trash cans into a Topshop store on Oxford Street.

A small group of protesters occupied the high-end food store Fortnum & Mason on Piccadilly, creating chaos and throwing cakes.

When police intervened, light bulbs filled with ammonia were apparently thrown at them. Thirteen people were arrested for criminal damage and public order offenses.

The Trades Union Congress, which organized the demonstration, stressed that the march was in fact peaceful overall, and that these were isolated incidents. Indeed, the majority of the protesters spent the afternoon peacefully walking along the pre-planned route from Embankment to Hyde Park, accompanied by Samba bands and other performers.

Many demonstrators showed up with their children in tow, blowing horns and shouting out "Whose streets? Our streets!"

Yesterday's event, which was dubbed the "March for the Alternative," was called to protest the cuts to public-sector spending being implemented by the government to address the deficit.

Dave Prentis, general secretary of the public sector union UNISON, said the "absolutely enormous," turnout - believed to be the largest gathering of protesters in London since a series of demonstrations against the Iraq war several years ago - was and a sign of "the anger of ordinary working people at the government's cuts."

Unite, the largest union involved, said that so many of its members had wanted to participate that it could not find enough coaches or trains to ferry them to London. Unite's general secretary Len McCluskey described the scale of the deficit as exorbitant.

"Our alternative is to concentrate on economic growth through tax fairness," he told the BBC.