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Tuesday, 1 May, 2001, 16:52 GMT 17:52 UK
Eyewitness: Penned in at Oxford Street

Hundreds of protesters were contained in Oxford Circus
The May Day protests were billed as a giant real life Monopoly board game. But as BBC News Online's Dominic Casciani reports, the games came to an end as the police decided to teach the protesters a lesson.

An end to the party atmosphere came when demonstrators were stopped in their tracks on one of the game's most famous locations, Oxford Street.

The protest and the subsequent penning in of hundreds of people in West End locations came after a day of action which had started brightly for those who did not want to see any violence.

A police officer in full riot gear
Police relations with the crowd were mixed
But their hopes began to fade in the late afternoon as a small number of protesters decided to attack Oxford Circus shops including Niketown and H&M.

The noisiest part of the demonstration until then had come when at least 100 students began a march against the World Bank at its London premises in the Haymarket.

Led by students carrying "fatcat" placards and chanting anti-globalisation slogans ("World Bank, IMF! How many kids have you starved to death?") they more than made up for their lack of numbers through noise alone.

But their enthusiasm for reaching Oxford Circus almost two hours before the planned rendezvous of all the protests was to prove, unwittingly, their undoing.

Random violence

Despite reaching Oxford Circus bedraggled and damp in the pouring rain, the crowd had swelled and had remained upbeat.

A protester sits naked on top of a lamp post
Making the most of it
But as more people arrived, the police moved in behind the protesters.

In footballing terms, the Met played a blinder.

They'd allowed the protesters in - but they weren't going to let them out. Two lines of riot-gear clad officers and a buffer zone of vans on each exit were making that clear.

This meant that none of the separate demonstrations could meet up, making any violence more manageable for the police.

Fluffies (the anti-violence protesters) played volleyball and banged drums and unfurled left-wing banners. Spikies (those bent on violence) were in evidence but small in number and biding their time.

Two middle-aged women who'd clearly seen years of hippy-inspired demonstrating, declared the day "a fluffy day not a spikey day".

However, it was not long before tension began to rise.

Those who had come to fight, didn't seem to be able to work out how to start it.

The Fluffies expressed frustration, predicting police tactics would provoke violence by treating everyone as criminals.

The large number of part-time anti-capitalists were becoming concerned about the weather's effect on their branded running shoes.

By 3pm, morale was low - as were rolling tobacco reserves. Few people had any alcohol, that well known lubricant of many a demo.

A protester injured in violence at Oxford Street
Victim: Sporadic violence was random
Those who had innocently been caught up in the cordon - including a number of bewildered tourists - were angry and upset.

Monopoly money had been handed out as part of the game. But someone had forgotten the "Get Out of Jail Free" cards.

As for the police, the attitude depended on the officer. Some were so cheery they apologised for the pushing and shoving. Others said little as they held their shields tight and stared.

However the crowd's morale turned sharply when they found out what the giant loudspeakers placed on top of Oxford Circus buildings were really for.

Trouble fear

A policeman's flat voice tried to tell the crowd that there were not going anywhere because of the threat to property. And if they wanted to go home they'd just have to sit and wait.

Protesters and police confront each other
"Can we go home yet?" But the answer was no.
Subsequent announcements from the disembodied headmaster's voice were like a red rag to a bull.

Murmurs went around that the crowd was the victim of a mass illegal arrest. The legal observers, mostly students wearing orange bibs, appeared at times to be poorly briefed and reluctant to advise.

Spirits were geed up and the chanting began once more. Trouble appeared on its way.

The spikies concluded the best line of attack was directly at the police lines - but not until they'd had a few pops at the windows of Niketown.

The missiles, comprising a few bottles and stakes, bounced off the superstore's plastic riot-proof windows.

A larger group of protesters bounced into the riot police - and promptly back again.

Disappointed that the Nike swoosh clearly wasn't for burning today, the nearby unassuming clothes shop H&M became the focus of all anti-capitalist venom and suffered a broken window.

And so it continued throughout the evening. Small groups were pinned down along the length of Oxford Street, unable to co-ordinate, unable to break police lines, unable to go home. As on previous occasions, the majority of non-violent campaigners with a point to make were drowned out.

Sporadic attempts at violence from a small minority were met by force from police who were increasingly relaxed.

The majority of onlookers were increasingly inclined to take their sodden feet and anti-capitalist aspirations back home with them. The only problem was they couldn't.

They were being taught a lesson by a police force which had learned a lot from May Day 2000.

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