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Wednesday, 1 May, 2002, 21:52 GMT 22:52 UK
Peaceful protest turns sour
police create an impasse in Dean St, Soho
The crowds jostled with tension
test hello test
By Jonathan Duffy
BBC News Online chief feature writer, Soho

The mood of the May Day protests took a turn for the worse as most of London was making its way home.

At tea time, a series of skirmishes between demonstrators and police erupted in the narrow streets of Soho in the capital's West End.

Police clutching riot shields and batons dispersed through the close-knit matrix of streets in an effort to bring some order to the angry crowd.

It looked as though the tactic proposed by some of the more radical protest groups - for the crowd to break into mobile units - had proved effective.

sex workers protest
Sex trade workers staged a lively procession

For most of the day the protest had been peaceful and good natured, but the mood suddenly turned as activists were starting to head off home.

The change of atmosphere was most apparent in Old Compton Street where shortly before the trouble, sex trade workers had staged a lively carnival-like procession.

By 1815 BST the road had become the scene of a series of tense face-offs between activists and the law.


At times it seemed police were struggling with crowd control.

"Are we going to hold the line or what?" one clearly frustrated officer shouted to his colleagues.

Demonstrators caught behind police lines tried to argue their way through the cordons but were mostly turned away.

protesters scuffle with police
Skirmishes erupted between demonstrators and police

Trouble spots seemed to blow up and die down within a few minutes.

Periodically a volley of missiles - beer cans and plastic bottles - would be seen flying through the air while the crowds jostled with pent-up tension.

A burst of heavy rainfall looked like it might dampen the enthusiasm of some of the crowd.

It was a short-lived hope for those looking to keep order though, as the downfall quickly subsided.

By 1930 BST it looked rather like a repeat of last year's May Day protest, with police holding a firm line and stopping any dispersal of the crowd.

But the tactic worked and after a stand-off with police, protesters later trailed away slowly into the Soho night.

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01 May 02 | Europe
The changing face of May Day
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