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Eviction of London Occupy camp underway

28 february 2012, 13:23
A tent is cleared away from the Occupy protest camp outside Saint Paul's Cathedral in central London. ©AFP
A tent is cleared away from the Occupy protest camp outside Saint Paul's Cathedral in central London. ©AFP
Police and bailiffs on Tuesday moved to dismantle the anti-capitalist camp which sprang up outside London's St Paul's Cathedral in October last year, AFP reports according to the City's local authority.

Occupy the London Stock Exchange protesters hastily erected barricades out of wooden palettes and let off smoke bombs as they attempted to delay efforts to remove tents, but bailiffs made rapid progress in clearing the site.

A handful of demonstrators were reported to have handcuffed themselves to a makeshift wooden structure on the edge of the camp, but the rest of the site was reduced to a pile of old mattresses and tents within two hours.

"Today the City of London Corporation has begun to enforce the High Court orders for the removal of the tents and equipment outside St Paul's," the corporation said in a statement.

"We regret that it has come to this but the High Court judgment speaks for itself.

"High Court enforcement officers employed by the City of London Corporation are undertaking the removal with the police present to ensure public safety and maintain order," it added. "We would ask protesters to move on peaceably."

Around 50 to 60 protesters remained when police moved in and issued a five minute warning shortly after midnight local time, with a lone piper heralding the camp's imminent demise.

Activist George Barda said he had "mixed emotions" as the eviction proceeded.

"It's an opportunity to move sideways," he told the BBC. "It's not the beginning of the end, just the end of the beginning and the drama of this event cannot be allowed to eclipse the issues."

Footage streamed live on the group's website appeared to show a minor scuffle between a protester and bailiffs, but the atmosphere was largely good-natured with only tents and equipment being removed in the initial sweep.

Another activist claimed on Occupy's Twitter page that police were threatening to arrest protesters if they did not leave the church's steps, although the eviction order does not extend to the removal of people.

There has been an air of resignation within the camp since the Court of Appeal on Wednesday dismissed protesters' application for permission to challenge last month's High Court ruling that they must disband the camp, which is located in the heart of London's financial district.

OccupyLSX, which began on October 15 in support of the similar action on New York's Wall Street, confirmed the arrival of bailiffs and police before the eviction got underway.

"Police arrive at St Paul's," said the group on its Twitter webpage. "Look to be kettling (barricading) the tents".

The local authority vowed to find appropriate accommodation for any vulnerable people camped at the site.

The corporation started legal action against the protest camp in November, arguing it had attracted crime, dented local trade and inconvenienced worshippers.

The camp caused deep rifts within the cathedral authorities, and while the Chapter of St Paul's cautiously welcomed Wednesday's decision, it said it hoped the debate begun by the protesters would continue.

"We have always said that a permanent camp is an unsustainable forum, but would reiterate to the protestors that we have offered a number of alternative platforms for the important issues they raise to be voiced," it said.

The head of St Paul's, Giles Fraser, resigned in October rather than see protesters forcibly removed.

At its October peak, around 200 demonstrators were based at the camp, but numbers have dwindled over recent weeks.

US police forcibly evicted protesters from Zuccotti Park in Manhattan's Financial District two months ago.

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