Page last updated at 02:50 GMT, Friday, 3 April 2009 03:50 UK

Eyewitness: Two days of protests

By Dominic Casciani
BBC News at the G20 protests

The Climate Camp in the City with a guitarist and juggler
Climate Camp: Participants felt they had the moral high ground occupying a street

The unshaven young man at ExCel summed it up with his hand-written placard: "Down with this sort of thing!"

David Jones was one of the estimated 5,000 people to take to the streets of London for two days of G20 protests - a little of it intensely violent - but most of it overwhelmingly peaceful and benign.

"I'm protesting to get the G20 to do the right thing - but I'm trying to inject some humour - everyone is so serious. I'm going to get everyone to sing the 'Wheels on the Bus go Round and Round' later."

Over the last two days, those of us who spent the G20 with the protesters lost count of the single-issue groups on the streets.

I believe we used the right sort of plan - we were polite, proportionate and pragmatic - and we are now where we are with a city that's open and people can get to and from work
Commander Simon O'Brien

There was the global talking shop inside ExCel - and a global speakers' corner on the outside.

Conference day was exceptionally low-key compared with what we had seen. No banks were stormed and the ratio of black-clad anarchists to pin-stripe suited city folk tipped significantly in Savile Row's favour.

Even die-hard anti-capitalists need a break: A giant game of Monopoly, played in an ironic spirit outside the London Stock Exchange, wrapped up at 10am so the participants could go home for a cup of tea.

At ExCel itself, the protest was so far away from the action that Barack Obama could only have seen it if he had one of his famous cigarette breaks, on the roof, using a pair of binoculars from his Secret Service detail.

Had he seen it, it would have been difficult to fathom what was going on. A man in a gorilla suit. A huge throng of Ethiopian campaigners. Socialist Workers and Climate Change activists. Later, the Youth Job Marchers arrived to stand along.


So what was achieved? Political aims? Not really. Violence? There was some - but not as much as the dire predictions. The attack on the RBS branch was startling, but limited. The death of a man near the Bank of England appears to be a human tragedy.

Aheavily armoured police truck near the Stock Exchange
Heavy armour: But police deny they were heavy handed

And the official police estimate of hardcore trouble-makers stands at between 300 and 500.

Some of the demonstrators who were in the middle of the police "kettle" at the Bank of England on Wednesday are furious. They believe that they were kept there for hours to be taught a lesson just because of the actions of a minority.

The reality is that previous "G" meetings have seen more violence, more protests and more embarrassment for the host country.

In contrast, London's clean-up had already begun by Thursday morning. Pressure-washers were turned on Wellington's statue outside the Bank of England and gardeners pulled up the trampled daffodils.

By late afternoon some of the graffiti had been missed - including the rather unfortunate "Anarchy: A.C.A.B.": All Cops Are (I'll leave it to your imagination).

Climate Camp

For the many hundreds of people who took part in the Climate Camp in the City, there was something to celebrate. They predicted they would occupy the street outside the European Climate Exchange in Bishopsgate - and that's exactly what they did.

A workman cleans up Graffiti near the Bank of England

The Climate Campers have walked away from the G20 having captured a great deal of mainstream media coverage - and a lot of attention on the internet thanks to their slick use of Facebook and Twitter.

Richard Bernard from the Climate Camp said many of the participants had been elated at how they were able to set up their tent city - but angry with how the demonstration ended.

Sometime after 2300 BST, police began to clear the camp. Officers used public order powers to clear the road on grounds of it being an obstruction.

Some of the campers left - but many sat down in an act of civil rights-style disobedience. The police came in and took up the tents, dragging away those who refused to move of their own accord.

Some of those who were subject to the dragging say they are angry with the police, saying the tactics were disproportionate, given the camp was noisy but entirely good natured.

David Howarth, the Liberal Democrats justice spokesman, has also questioned the tactics, saying he believed officers used "heavy force".

"When they decided they wanted to break up the camp, they did it with a lot of aggression, snatching people who had protested peacefully," said Richard Bernard of Climate Camp.

"But that's what we expected because we were not just challenging one element of economic policy but the whole system."

"We held that space and captured the media's attention and got climate change on the agenda. This is not the end of it. We're going to come back in August for Camp in the City Part Two."

'Right sort of plan'

Commander Simon O'Brien of the Metropolitan Police defended the strategies used in "Operation Glencoe", as the police plan is officially known.

Celebrations: Protesters at Bank on Thursday after police moved on
Celebrations: Protesters at Bank on Thursday after police moved on

"The Climate Camp had been in place on a thoroughfare of the capital, a major thoroughfare, for almost 12 hours," he told the BBC.

"The vast majority of the campers did pick up their tents voluntarily and leave at the request of police. I believe we used the right sort of plan. We were polite, proportionate and pragmatic - and we are now where we are with a city that's open and people can get to and from work."

Commander O'Brien said the protests were just one part of a "complex operation" - and the Met's job wouldn't be done until all of the international delegates have left.

"The big main issue for us was to get the world leaders to and from a very important summit," said Commander O'Brien.

"We then had some challenges around protest. The lawful protests had no problem.

"Even the issues outside the Bank of England, it was only a small proportion taking part in violence.

"They were trying to agitate and hijack that protest. We believe our tactics were proportionate and worked. The lawful protesters were the victims of them, not the Metropolitan Police."

On Thursday afternoon, a small group of climate demonstrators were sitting in a circle near the Bank of England, quietly refusing to move.

Police officers had wanted to search them for offensive weapons and they had said no. The officers said the group could not leave until they were searched - so they sat down. Eventually the officers moved away, leading to cheers and hugs.

It i going to be some time before London sees another major international gathering - but many of the protesters who came out this week have been heartened - and will be back too.

Pictures: Phil Coomes, BBC.

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