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1990: Violence flares in poll tax demonstration

VIDEO : Report on the Poll Tax riot

An anti-poll tax rally in central London has erupted into the worst riots seen in the city for a century.

Forty-five police officers are among the 113 people injured as well as 20 police horses.

A total of 340 people have been arrested in the heart of London's West End, popular with musical and theatre goers, as cars have been overturned and set alight.

Four tube stations have been shut for safety reasons as police try to clear the streets, with much of central London now cordoned off.

Demonstrators have attacked police with bricks and cans.

Fire fighters attempting to extinguish the blazes have been hit with wood and stones.

Restaurants have been forced to close early by the violence which left shop windows smashed and many businesses with their contents looted.

Eyewitness reports describe a cloud of black smoke over Trafalgar Square.

Peaceful protests

The violence erupted just after 1600 BST following a peaceful march against the poll tax which saw up to 70,000 people take to the streets in protest at the new government levy.

A group of protesters involved in a sit-in at Whitehall, close to the Downing Street entrance, refused to move after requests from police and stewards.

As police arrested offenders, placards and cans were thrown from the crowd and the trouble spread to Charing Cross Road, Pall Mall, Regent Street and Covent Garden.

David Meynell, deputy assistant commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, in charge of the operation, said a peaceful march had been "completely overshadowed by the actions of about 3,000 to 3,500 people in minority groups".

He said they "without any doubt at all" had launched "a ferocious and sustained attack on the police".

The Home Secretary David Waddington is expected to make a statement to the House of Commons on the rioting tomorrow.

In Context
More than 400 people were arrested and property was damaged with repairs estimated at 400,000 after the demonstration which saw 100,000 people turn out to protest against the poll tax.

The demonstration had been proceeded by many smaller rallies across the country.

The poll tax enraged people because it was a levy on individuals regardless of means.

Its unpopularity contributed to the downfall of Margaret Thatcher who resigned in November 1990 after 11 years at the helm of British politics.

Her successor, John Major, appointed Michael Heseltine Environment Secretary to dismantle the poll tax.

It was replaced by the council tax - a levy related to the value of a house.


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