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Tuesday, 1 May, 2001, 10:50 GMT 11:50 UK
Eyewitness: On the roads with the cyclists

Cheeky but peaceful atmosphere
The atmosphere on London streets has so far been one of carnival, writes BBC News Online's Dominic Casciani.

Whitehall resembled less a seat of government and more a fortress this morning, with 30 vans of police officers parked, taking no chances of anyone getting near Downing Street.


Police cleared traffic to let cyclists through
While the police had been warning for days that there could be violence, the atmosphere at the start of the Critical Mass bike ride at Liverpool Street was completely different.

In words of the protesters themselves, there were plenty of "fluffies" - peaceful demonstrators - and very few anarchists, those known as the "spikies".

Whistle start tour

Critical Mass had one aim this morning: to stop the traffic and have fun while they did it. At 0806 BST, the lead cyclist blew a whistle, a cheer rose through the crowd and hundreds of assembled riders took to the roads.

The ride made an odd scene - with hard core City cyclists with their expensive bikes and clothing pedalling alongside a woman dressed as Mother Nature going along on an old bone shaker.


Friendly atmosphere
It was a good-natured start to the day with the cyclists well ordered, well behaved and well up for it. The police responded in kind by staying back and only acting to keep the traffic and the cyclists apart. At one stage the cyclists cleared the roads to let a fire engine through.

However, there were two points on the four-mile journey from Liverpool Street to Kings Cross when the atmosphere changed significantly.

Stand-off

The first came when the ride arrived at a McDonald's restaurant. Half a dozen of the riders began a protest.

Other cyclists called on them to move along but the police arrived on the scene to surround the front of the restaurant leading to a minor stand-off between them and the protesters. The situation ended without incident.


Officers videoed the proceedings
Half an hour later a larger group of cyclists stopped in the middle of Cannon Street crossroads in the City and raised their bikes in air. For a second time cyclists at the back urged them to move onwards but they refused to move.

Two minutes later around half a dozen police officers entered the crowd and extracted two protesters.

This led to cries of "shame" from the cyclists but the situation calmed down when the two individuals were returned to the crowd.

Sit down protest

Despite the cold weather, by the time this ride and another starting at Marylebone in the west of London reached King's Cross Station there was a carnival atmosphere.


Police and protesters in discussion at King's Cross
Some cyclists sat down in the middle of the road to read books and magazines. When people started playing drums, others began to dance.

But the highlight for many was the opening of a brand new fast-food outlet - McVegans. The stall run by a small group of anti-capitalist protesters brazenly opened for business right outside the local McDonalds restaurant. While dozens queued for the veggie-burgers the McDonalds managers could only look on.

The veggie stall symbolised the atmosphere for the morning. The protests were cheeky, with little or no sign of malice.


Cyclist's mask, also masking identity
Hilary, one of the McVegan team, said she hoped the carnival atmosphere would continue.

"The police and the media were saying that there was going to be violence and everybody would be on the rampage. We are not here to be violent - if other people are it is their problem.

"We just want the police and everybody else to know that whatever happens later today this has been a peaceful and successful demonstration".

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