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Wednesday, 1 May, 2002, 16:03 GMT 17:03 UK
Carnival atmosphere for May Day
Protesters gathered in London
The day started with a mass cycle ride
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By Jonathan Duffy
BBC News Online chief feature writer
Whistles, whoops, and bongo beats rang out through central London on May Day as anti-capitalist protesters took to the streets.

An anti-US protester in Grosvenor Square
A crowd of several hundred embarked on what at times seemed more like a walking tour of the capital's tourist highlights, and although there were sporadic displays of tension, there was no sign of the feared violence by mid-afternoon.

Probably the most threatening display came outside a branch of McDonalds' on Oxford St when several dozen police stood their ground in front of the restaurant as the protesters stopped to vent their spleen at the multinational. But within a couple of minutes the police were ushering the crowd on their way.

In Seattle when the first stone went through Starbucks, the media woke up

Atle Kjosen
Grosvenor Square, home to the US Embassy, provided a rallying point for the marchers at lunchtime.

Traffic backed up around the square as the small group fanned out across the road, playfully taunting drivers and dancing in front of their cars. But the disruption was short-lived as four van-loads of police pulled up at the kerbside to restore order.

Sticks and stones

As the activists, who represented a coalition of causes under the anti-capitalist umbrella, set off on a march through Soho, the spirit was more carnival than confrontation.

Boarded up shop in Park Lane
Shop owners were taking no chances
Hesitant shop owners and street-side diners looked on as the mass made their way to Piccadilly and through the narrow roads south of Oxford St. Many shops, offices and hotels had already taken the precaution of boarding up windows or pulling down their shutters.

The question on everyone's lips was whether violence would erupt as it had on previous May Day protests. One student said that while he was a peaceful demonstrator, he did not rule out the need for violence.

"We have to respect other people's tactics. It's a way of raising consciousness, of shocking people.

Covered statue in Grosvenor Square
All police leave was cancelled for the day
"In Seattle when the first stone went through Starbucks, suddenly the media woke up to what was happening," said Atle Kjosen, who was in the capital with friends from the University of East Anglia in Norwich.

Among the police officers mingled with the crowd, there was no visible evidence that they were equipped for trouble - instead of riot gear, they walked comfortably in shirtsleeves and received little bother from the protesters.

Wake-up call

There were times when it was unclear who, if anyone, was in charge of the protest. At the crossroads of New Bond St and Conduit St, the march came to a halt as activists asked, "where to now?"

Watching the protesters on CCTV
As the crowd moved off towards Piccadilly Circus, there was a half-hearted attempt to stop traffic with a sit-down. But the handful who took part was easily persuaded back to their feet by a couple of police officers.

By the time they arrived back on Oxford St, the footballs were out and flying through the air. This was the promised game of "carniball", an attempt to turn one of the UK's busiest shopping streets into a playground.

Andrew Robinson arrived in London this morning from Warwick University. Brandishing an American flag in which each star had been replaced with a corporate logo, Mr Robinson said he was most irate about "corporate government involvement".

Breakfast sit-in
The day started early for some protesters
"Government has to realise that it's not their job to jump into bed with multinationals. They are here to represent the people, not the interests of big business.

"What I want to achieve most from this day is the people will see our flags and hear our protests and wake up to what is happening around them."

This year's tactic to keep the demo fluid and moving was designed to prevent protesters from getting hemmed by in police as happened last year when they spent hours blocked in at Oxford Circus.

The idea eventually came undone at 1630BST when the marchers who had already plodded several miles across central London came to a halt in Piccadilly Circus with a mass sit-down.

"I think we're all just too tired and some of us needed the loo," said one worn-out activist.

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