Police clash with hardcore protesters in Edinburgh


Hardcore anti-capitalists, with their faces covered, clash with police in Edinburgh city centre (Nicolas Asfouri/AFP/Getty)

By David Lister and Shirley English in Edinburgh and Times Online
July 4, 2005

Up to 1,000 anarchists, communicating by radio and mobile telephone, were today blamed for bringing Edinburgh to a standstill and provoking fierce confrontations with the police.

After a day of mounting tensions, the centre of the Scottish capital was flooded with hundreds of riot police who fought a series of skirmishes with anti-capitalist protesters less than 48 hours before the start of the G8 summit.

With more trouble predicted ahead of Wednesday’s summit opening at the Gleneagles Hotel in Perthshire, police said that up to 30 protesters had been arrested and several officers injured in clashes. Several people fainted in the crush.

Tom Halpin, Assistant Chief Constable of Lothian and Borders Police, accused the protesters of "reckless and irresponsible behaviour" tonight.

He said: "We are facing a hardcore of determined activists supported by hangers-on. Large numbers have been facing up to the police. We have recovered maps, radios and mobile telephones, sticks, staves and other missiles which have been thrown at police officers."

He added that police had also recovered "some street furniture [and] benches, that have been there for many years, that were thrown at police officers."

However, protesters accused police of being heavy-handed after several dozen officers, in full riot gear, drew their retractable truncheons as they ran through Princes Street Gardens, on the northern side of Edinburgh’s main thoroughfare, striking onlookers as well as protesters. In another skirmish a cyclist trying to move out of the way was hit with a baton by police.

Several hundred people were caught up in the violent clashes just after 7pm tonight as police baton-charged members of the pubic in St Andrew's Square, just off Princes Street.

More than 30 officers wearing riot gear poured from their black vans after protesters ran past and hit the vans. Some people found themselves being battoned and pulled from doorways by police in the ensuing chaos. One woman appeared to be quite badly injured after an officer hit her in the stomach with his riot shield.

Chris Tavner, a 23-year-old from Manchester, said: "If there is any violent element here, it’s a tiny minority and that’s it. I’ve never seen so many police concentrated in one place."

The centre of Edinburgh came to a standstill as police attempted to prevent anarchists from taking "direct action" - in previous protests a euphemism for smashing windows and defacing statues - against the city’s banks and insurance companies.

Tensions had been rising steadily all day during the unofficial "Festival for Full Enjoyment", a series of spontaneous marches and blockades across the city, involving about 1,000 anarchists, clowns, drummers and a troupe with sparkly wings calling themselves the "Fairy Army".

Despite police fears that the protest might be hijacked by militant groups such as the Wombles and Dissent, it began quietly enough, with journalists and police outnumbering the marchers by at least 4-1. They blew bubbles, shook bells, waved streamers and scattered fake bank notes. One carried a placard with the message: "Unemployed and loving it." Another wore a t-shirt that said: "F*** capitalism."

A member of the Fairy Army, wearing a colourful pair of wings fashioned from bamboo, cotton and tinsel, said he was there to have fun and to "spread a little magic." He said that the protest was meant to be like a carnival, with music, dancing and clowns with tickling sticks taking over Edinburgh’s picturesque streets.

ut despite the good-natured atmosphere, the presence of small groups of masked youths, some waving black anarchist flags, betrayed a more sinister element. "Smash kapital," read the graffiti on a nearby wall.
Despite police attempts to isolate them, hundreds of anarchists mingled among the protesters. By mid-afternoon most of Princes Street was sealed off as police, some in full riot gear, engaged in several tense stand-offs with them.

Helicopters buzzed overhead and the sound of police sirens filled the streets, mingling with the drums and whistles of the demonstrators. A handful of officers moved among the crowd photographing people.

In Canning Street, in Edinburgh’s financial district, police hemmed in around 300 protesters, around 40 of whom wore black hooded tops or masks and occasionally jostled with officers.

One scaled a 25ft wall and pulled a moonie at police below. Several, including a boy no older than 16, taped newspapers around their forearms as protection should police draw their batons. Others wrote mobile telephone numbers of fellow anarchists on their hands and arms. From windows above, office workers looked on bemused.

The police response could not have been more different to the low-key presence at Saturday’s well-organised and peaceful Make Poverty History march attended by an estimated 200,000 people.

The turning point came when a scuffle broke out in Princes Street Gardens, in which anarchists attacked tore up plants from flower beds and threw them at police.

Sally Farrer, 51, from Manchester, said: "We were just sitting here having a break when the police charged in after this anarchist kid. There was a howl of protest from a load of us when some of the anarchists started ripping up the geraniums and throwing them. We helped to replant them and the anarchist clowns then threw a protective circle around the flower bed. They were chanting: ‘It’s not the plants’ fault.’"

One protester Chuffy Domnguez, 18, from Glasgow, who was dressed as a clown, said: "This is unbelievable. The police are baton-charging people who are here today to party on the streets. It’s a deliberate ploy to stigmatise anarchists by flooding the place with riot police and penning us in. It’s a sad day."

Tricia Tranent, an Edinburgh resident, who was in town shopping, said that she was horrified by the strong-armed tactics of the police.

Pointing at a line of riot police stretched across Princes Street, she said: "They are asking for trouble. Look at them. They look like a military unit. It is totally over the top. I’ve seen police pushing people who are doing nothing more than dance in front of them. It’s ridiculous."

Demonstrators also blockaded the home of Britain's nuclear submarine fleet, Faslane, this morning. One man was arrested who infiltrated the base's oil depot, but there were no other incidents as a line of police in fluorescent yellow jackets kept back around 700 demonstrators.

More than 10,000 police have been deployed at Gleneagles and elsewhere in Scotland in the biggest security operation ever mounted in the UK for an international summit.

Although Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, the Chancellor, who hope to persuade G8 leaders to accept UK proposals for a sharp increase in aid to Africa, have backed the anti-poverty protests, police fear that they could be hijacked by anarchist groups intent on violence.

Sir Richard Branson arrived at Edinburgh Airport with a plane full of international campaigners. With him on the flight was Natalie Imbruglia, the Australian pop star, and R&B singer Estelle.

He said: "These are the people on the ground who are trying to make a difference and they all wanted to come to Edinburgh to campaign."
Sir Richard said that it was in the interest of the United States to make Africa a wealthy and healthy continent. He said: "About 40 years ago we managed to help places like Malaysia have a leg up and now they are big trading nations with us. For purely commercial reasons it makes sense for America to give Africa a leg up. Morally it would be wrong not to do it."

Comedian Eddie Izzard, who met the campaigners on the runway, said that he had decided to come to Scotland from his base in Los Angeles to become involved in the poverty awareness campaign.

He said: "The G8 have met many times and not an awful lot has come out of it but I think minds will now be focused. I think we’ve got the best chance with Gordon Brown and Tony Blair totally signed up to this. There’s such a positive spirit out there. The simple message to the G8 leaders is: we’ve made slavery history, so now let’s make poverty history."