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Clashes with police overshadow UK anti-cuts rally

posted 26 Mar 2011, 11:35 by Sam Mbale   [ updated 26 Mar 2011, 11:37 ]

Black-clad, masked youths smash shop windows and clash with police in central London where more than a quarter of a million Britons march in protest against government spending cuts.

LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM (MARCH 26, 2011) BBC/ITN HELICOPTER - Black-clad, masked youths clashed with police, smashed windows and started a fire in central London on Saturday (March 26) when more than a quarter of a million Britons marched in protest against government spending cuts.

Breakaway groups splintered from the main rally and threw flares and smoke grenades and broke into a

branch of HSBC bank in the centre of the capital.

Hooded figures climbed on to the roof of luxury food store Fortnum & Mason while other protesters started a fire in the centre of Oxford Street, the capital's main shopping street.

The clashes, although sporadic, rippled across the centre of the city, and overshadowed a rally called by unions to protest against unemployment and public spending cuts, tax rises and pension reforms introduced by the Conservative-led coalition.

Union leaders and police said over 250,000 people joined the biggest rally in the capital since protests against war in Iraq in 2003.

The coalition, in power since last May, is pushing ahead with a tough debt reduction programme to virtually eliminate a budget deficit, running at about 10 percent of GDP, by 2015.

Prime Minister David Cameron's government says it is cleaning up a mess left by the previous Labour government and that failure to act would expose Britain to market turmoil.

Police were pelted with paint and what they said were light bulbs filled with ammonia by protesters in clashes which mirrored violence late last year over higher student tuition fees. Police said they had arrested nine people.

Many European countries have seen mass protests in recent months as governments slash public spending to try to help their economies to recover from the global financial crisis.

Unions and the opposition Labour Party say the government measures are bringing misery to millions of Britons with unemployment at its highest level since 1994.

Labour leader Ed Miliband told marchers in Hyde Park that the government was taking Britain back to what he said were the divisive politics of the 1980s when Conservative Margaret Thatcher was prime minister.

"I think it's wrong what the government is doing. They are going too far and too fast. There is an alternative and they should listen. It's not just me saying it, it's people up and down the country saying it too," Miliband said.