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Climate change activists bring West End to a standstill

Hundreds of arrests are made during peaceful protests as Extinction Rebellion group warn of an 'environmental apocalypse'

19 April, 2019 — By Tom Foot and Urte Fultinaviciute

A protester is carried away by police officers at Waterloo Bridge. Photos: Urte Fultinaviciute

ACTIVISTS protesting against an oncoming environmental apocalypse were last night (Thursday) standing firm across the West End despite police making an unprecedented number of arrests.

Extinction Rebellion (XR) warns that the government are failing to act against a “mass extinction event”, only the sixth in 500 million years.

The climate change campaign group has brought a hardline, but peaceful, brand of direct action to the streets. Hundreds of supporters have glued and chained themselves to sites in Marble Arch, Waterloo Bridge and Parliament Square, while a boat called “The Truth” has been fixed to the road in Oxford Circus.

The number of arrests – by yesterday there had been 460 mainly for obstructing highways – is three times higher than those arrested during the student fees protests in 2010.

Trafalgar Square protest

Home secretary Sajid Javid said the activists “have no right to cause misery” and ordered police to “take a firm stance”. But the Met hitback last night saying that they had “no legal basis” to “physically and forcibly stop protesters” who were not being “violent towards police”.

Larry, 32, who had locked himself to another person since 9am in Oxford Circus, told the Extra: “I am staying here as long as it takes because it is an emergency. There has to be a conversation with the government. They don’t listen. They have to be forced to listen.”

Rob, 38, who has been at the Oxford Circus protest location since Sunday, told the Extra: “I am willing to stay here as long as it takes.”

The ‘Truth’ boat at Oxford Circus 

The XR group warns that the sea level will rise, deserts will take over, and fires, water shortages, crop failures, and extreme weather conditions will occur. In short, the end of the world is coming.

Politicians are influenced by powerful corporations the mainstream media has too many vested interests, says the group.

The specific demands of XR include forcing the government to: declare a climate and ecological emergency; act to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2025; and set up a citizens’ assembly to lead a people-power fight for climate and ecological justice.

The group’s statement said “many current life forms could be annihilated or at least committed to extinction by the end of this century”, adding that “modern, consumer-focused lifestyles” were to blame for driving global warming.

Tents in the heart of the city

XR was only officially formed last October after 1,500 people joined another peaceful “declaration of rebellion” pro-test in Parliament Square.

It was followed up with traffic-blocking protests on five Thames bridges before in November they carried a coffin outside Buckingham Palace symbolising the death of the next generation.

At that protest an activist superglued themselves to a gate in a sign of what was to come.

In March 400 people gathered at Downing Street and created a “sea” of “blood”. The blood was a mixture of non-toxic and biodegradable paint, mixed with syrup, food colouring, water and cornflour, to represent the endangered next generation.

Rob: ‘I am willing to stay here as long as it takes’

The Met said last night: “We have been asked why we are not using tactics such as containment, physically and forcibly stopping the protesters from moving around. The simple answer is we have no legal basis to do so. These are peaceful protesters; while disruptive, their actions are not violent towards police, themselves or other members of the public. We are looking at other tactics such as tighter police cordons. But again that is resource-intensive, in terms of officer numbers, and more often than not it just shifts the protesters to another location nearby and does not assist in reopening roads. However we are taking action. Since Monday, April 15, we have arrested more than 460 people, the large majority for breach of Section 14 and obstruction of the highway. Of those arrested, so far eight people have been charged with those offences.”

Cllr Tim Mitchell, Westminster City Council cabinet member for environment and city management, said: “The right to lawful protest in public spaces is part of our democracy.

Climate change is a global issue affecting us all and as a council we are playing our part in reducing the impact we have on our environment.”


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