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Wednesday, 1 May, 2002, 22:25 GMT 23:25 UK
Skirmishes mar May Day protests
May Day protest
Protesters are held by police lines
Police in riot gear have arrested 15 people after coming under attack from May Day protesters with cans, bottles and pieces of wood.

Five officers suffered injuries, all minor, except for one who had his arm broken when a fire extinguisher was thrown at him.

The trouble began in late afternoon after a largely peaceful day in which an estimated 7,000 demonstrators attended a series of rallies in central London.

A series of confrontations developed in the Soho area and lines of police reinforcements were brought in to tackle sporadic outbursts of trouble from small, moving crowds totalling around 700 people.


Perhaps they will learn that they can actually have a colourful, peaceful demonstration

Mike Todd, Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner

That figure dropped to 300 and as darkness fell almost all had drifted away.

The 15 arrested in the Soho skirmishes were charged with a range of offences including going equipped to cause criminal damage, possession of illegal drugs and public order offences

Some protesters could be seen using mobile phones to co-ordinate their actions as police attempted to corral the groups and prevent people entering the area.

Violence was directed at coffee shops and fast food outlets with several having their windows smashed.

'Success'

One officer said protesters were also throwing bottles of hydrogen peroxide - bleach - across police lines.

Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner Mike Todd said it was "extremely annoying" that a small group of demonstrators had caused trouble after the day's largely peaceful events elsewhere in London.

But he said he was pleased with the policing operation.

May Day protest
Protesters climb onto the fountain at Trafalgar Square

"I would say it was an immense success," he said.

Mr Todd revealed about 4,000 officers had been used in the operation - fewer than the Met had been prepared to deploy.

He "regretted" having to take so many officers away from other duties and hoped the violent few would realise they could "make their point" peacefully.

"If they are thinking about another demonstration next year, perhaps they will learn that they can actually have a colourful, peaceful demonstration and perhaps that is the way forward for them."

Missiles

As night fell, trouble continued on the corner of Shaftesbury Avenue and Rupert Street, and a woman was taken away on a stretcher with a bleeding head wound by paramedics from the London Ambulance Service.

Riot police manned roadblocks at every junction around the area, fighting brief battles with demonstrators.

Some 300 protesters cordoned in along Old Compton Street began throwing missiles, including at least one which was on fire, at the lines of police which were at least five deep.

But the uneasy stand-off soon dwindled and ended at about 2200 BST.

Home Secretary David Blunkett had earlier warned that there would be zero tolerance of anyone planning violence.

'Festive'

London Mayor Ken Livingstone welcomed a peaceful TUC march and rally in Trafalgar Square but warned people not to get involved with the minority who wanted to turn May Day into a "festival of violence."

The day started with cyclists taking part in protest rides from Camberwell in south London and Camden Town in north London, with both groups converging peacefully in Grosvenor Square.

Womble protest
Protesters gathered in support of the wombles

Protesters also gathered outside Horseferry Road Magistrates Court, in central London, where the trial of seven members of anti-capitalism group the Wombles is continuing.

Wombles stands for the anarchist group White Overall Movement Building Liberations through Effective Struggle.

The socialist umbrella group Globalise Resistance joined the TUC march for the first time this year.

Activist Despina Mavrou described the atmosphere as "very festive."

Other May Day events included an anti-fur demonstration in Ilford and outside a Regent Street furriers and a sex workers' pride march in Soho.

Protests were also held in many parts of the world, with police and demonstrators clashing in Berlin and Sydney.

Last year about 10,000 protesters were hemmed in by riot police at London's Oxford Circus shopping area for several hours, and 100 were arrested.

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 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Fergus Walsh
"Today was about street protests and street politics"
The BBC's Robert Hall
"The police have had their batons drawn and their shields out"

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See also:

01 May 02 | Europe
The changing face of May Day
01 May 02 | UK
Peaceful protest turns sour
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