Tag Archives: parliament square

Syria Vote: die-in outside Parliament

As MPs debated whether to drop bombs on Syria, people gathered again in Parliament Square to protest against military action. The Stop the War Coalition had a small stage and PA and a crowd began to form on the grass as speeches got underway.

Meanwhile, an activist from Peace Strike ran onto the road outside Parliament and put herself under a large truck. This caused a roadblock for some time until she was eventually coaxed out by police and arrested.

Apart from this brief interruption, it was clear that StWC had some sort of arrangement with the Met, as senior police were overheard asking the organisers to stall for as long as possible before taking over the road.

So the speeches rumbled on for over an hour, with mostly the usual StWC glitterati, among them George Galloway who, whatever you think of him, is a decent orator, enthralling the crowd.

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Once the rush-hour traffic was finished, the die-in was announced, and in a carefully staged action of mock civil disobedience, around a thousand people took to the road and started their die-in.

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Police told the few motorists, mainly taxi drivers, caught in the action, that they should switch off their engines as they may be there some time.

However, after about quarter of an hour, officers moved in, and with a mixture of encouragement and a little brute force (without arrest), channels were cleared to allow the trapped vehicles to leave.

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Pre-organised diversions were in place to close off most of the square, but police also moved in to clear a single carriageway on the Abbey side to allow Millbank traffic to pass through towards Victoria and and St James.

The Stop the War Coalition then packed up their stage and PA and as far as I could tell, the organisers all left, leaving the crowd to carry on shouting and chanting outside parliament for the next couple of hours.

A little after 9pm, Natalie Bennett (Green leader) came out of Parliament to address the protest. Unfortunately, as StWC had gone home, she had to use a megaphone, but her short speech of encouragement was warmly welcomed, as she described how the demonstration could be clearly heard in the House.

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The noise built up and reached a massive peak as Big Ben tolled out the 10pm deadline for debate. There was some confusion over the news around the amendment vote blocking military action, and for a moment cheers rang out as some people thought it was a good result, but that soon changed to a resumption of anti-war chants until the 10.30 final vote.

As the news came through 397 MPs had voted FOR military action and 223 against, the mood turned from immediate rage, to sadness, and then stunned silence. In fact, an eerie one minute’s silence was called, respected by all – the only noise in the square coming from police radios for a short poignant moment.

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After that, chants resumed louder than ever – “Tories out, refugees in” and “You were wrong then, you are wrong now”. Gradually people began to stand and leave, but a small group made their way down to the media village at St.Stephen’s and chanted loudly as MPs were interviewed. This certainly came over loud and clear on Sky TV, though many of the other broadcasters were already packing up their gear.

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I was struck by two advertisements I saw at Westminster station for arms companies – their shares guaranteed to rise quickly as a result of the vote.

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Reaching home I heard that two bombers had already left an airbase in Cyprus bound for Syria with their promise of collateral damage and fuel for terror, less than an hour after the parliamentary result was in.

 

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1st December #DontBombSyria rally

Arriving in Parliament Square just after 6pm this evening, the first banners I saw were those of Peace Strike, at the gates of Westminster.

01 151201 syria rally - © @indyrikki

Across the rush-hour filled road, the Stop the War Coalition had set up a small stage, and a crowd of up to two thousand had already arrived.

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03 151201 syria rally - © @indyrikki

Among the speakers were Caroline Lucas and George Galloway.

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As more protesters arrived, they spilled out onto the road, but police kept a single lane open to traffic heading west.

05 151201 syria rally - © @indyrikki

Just after 7pm, a short march was announced, and set off towards St James.

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The first stop was the nearby Conservative Party HQ where Andrew Murray delivered a letter to the Conservative Chairman.

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The march continued loudly and briskly.

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A second letter was delivered at the Labour HQ.

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As the marchers headed back along Victoria Street towards Parliament Square, I could see there were still marchers way behind at St. James’ station. Clearly numbers had built up massively, and I’d estimate there were more than 5000 involved.

10 151201 syria rally - © @indyrikki

Back in the square, people started to leave, but a group of around a thousand continued chanting, and some people climbed statues and trees in the square while police numbers built up to block any attempt to block the roads, although later there was a brief sit-in, some skirmishes as police intervened, and one man was arrested.

11 151201 syria rally - © @indyrikki

12 151201 syria rally - © @indyrikki

Among the crowd was a tearful Syrian man who was showing people pictures of his family home bombed to ruin – the real face of war.

With the parliamentary debate taking place tomorrow and a vote by 10pm, the Stop the War Coalition has called a further protest including a die-in from 6pm tomorrow evening. I am sure other groups will join this call, and Peace Strike will be continuing their vigil during the day.

 

Climate March and policing 7th March 2015

It is hard to understand why yesterday’s Climate March attracted many fewer than in Autumn, other than that the corporate media, owned by a handful of right-wing billionaires, is successfully misdirecting the public by continually ignoring or playing down the pressing scientific argument against the stranglehold of oil multi-nationals on national and international energy policy.

Still, several thousand angry folk gathered in Lincoln’s Inn Fields at lunchtime, before a bike bloc led the march towards Parliament.

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There was a pause for a sit-down on the Strand, lasting around ten minutes, and there was also a detour by an anarchist bloc which turned off Whitehall and looped back into the rear of Parliament Square to establish the #occupydemocracy gathering due to follow the climate rally.

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Prior to the march there was controversy over the Met’s demand that organisers pay for private road management – a position they retreated from later. In their original reasoning, they claimed that there was no need for any police presence because their core responsibility was “preventing and detecting crime, maintenance of the Queen’s Peace and protecting life and property”, and that because there the proposed march was “expected to be crime-free there was little requirement for it to provide a policing operation”.

So it was interesting that the event was not only fully policed, but that there was also a marked ramping-up of surveillance, with several FIT teams filming protesters, and a huge number of blue-tabarded “Liaison Officers”.

A smiley "liaison officer" from the National Domestic Extremist Special Operations branch

A smiley “liaison officer” from the National Domestic Extremist Special Operations branch

They seem to have given up any pretence that they are not gathering intelligence, with more and more of them sporting Public Order (CO) lapel badges, one Sergeant showing his SO (Domestic Extremist/Terrorist Specialist Operations), several Tactical Support Group officers (whose usual liaison with protesters involve shoving, punching or batoning them!), and out of their usual beat, several City of London police and some Detective Inspectors from Kent.

Perhaps this huge increase in intelligence gathering was a celebration of the Supreme Court’s ruling last week, in the John Catt case, that for the moment legitimises the wide-scale collection and retention of intelligence for “police purposes” that may include studying the “leadership, organisation, tactics and methods” as well as “links between protest groups”.

After the speeches and rally, one group of around a hundred activists headed off to block the steps of Tate Britain in protest at their sponsorship deals with BP, which provide huge amounts of greenwash and free advertising to the disgraced oil company in return for financial support which amounts to less than 1% of the Tate’s budget.

Another larger group, led by a ‘carbon bubble’ and huge dinosaur, took a stroll across Westminster Bridge and rallied outside the Shell HQ on the South Bank, where there were a few minor scuffles as TSG officers, protecting the corporation, tried to burst the bubble and snatch a few placards.

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After some speeches there, the several hundred protesters began to head back over the bridge to re-occupy Parliament Square, but suddenly things took a dark turn. The same group of TSG that had been observing protesters earlier in the Square, and who were involved in scuffles at Shell, suddenly decided in the middle of the bridge to snatch someone and arrest them on the strange premise that they had previously committed a Section 5 public order offence in Humberside. This character had been noisily playing a tambourine in Parliament Square during the afternoon, was very visible around the Shell protest, and was clearly heading back to the Square, so why the police chose to so publicly snatch him in the middle of the bridge is a mysterious lapse in judgement.

Inevitably, his arrest, and claims that the arrest was completely unfounded, led to the prisoner van being surrounded by protesters, with costumed polar bears staging a sit-in in front of the van.

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For the next 45 minutes, ever increasing numbers of police fought to clear a path for the van to exit, with many protesters receiving injuries in the process, despite the overwhelming majority acting peacefully.

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During the operation, another three people were arrested, including an NUJ journalist.

Even when the van finally made an escape along York Road, it got held up by traffic and some activists tried to halt its progress further, but in a terrifying few moments, the driver gradually built up speed, as protesters ran backwards with their hands on the bonnet, until eventually they realised he literally might kill them, and they span off to the side.

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Serious questions must be asked about whether the police were wise to attempt the original arrest in the middle of a large crowd in the middle of a bridge, and then whether their ensuing operation and escalating violence was proportionate in order to question someone about an historic alleged minor public order offence.

Once things had calmed down, the crowd returned to Parliament Square, where, under intense further surveillance, a group of up to a hundred held a meeting and then enjoyed some conscious poet and music entertainment into the evening from the likes of David Willard, Pete the Temp, and Danny Chivers.

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17 climate march

Occupy Democracy organised prisoner support at Charing Cross police station so that as people were released they were met with a friendly welcome and some food etc. It took the full 24 hours for the last of the four to be released.

Occupy Democracy have announced they will be in Parliament Square during the election period from 1st till 10th May, and Liberty have just had the go ahead to launch a judicial review on the legality of the GLA’s closing of the Square to protests.

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Occupy Democracy February – “Equality and Representation”

Last weekend, ‘Occupy Democracy’ returned to Parliament Square for a series of events around ‘Equality and Representation’. Despite an ongoing legal challenge against the GLA over previous repression, on Saturday they faced further arrests by police who appeared to be having difficulty providing a legal basis for their actions.

The afternoon began peacefully on the pavement by Churchill’s statue with a presentation on Islamaphobia, followed by a mock funeral for democracy at the foot of Mandela’s statue.

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Then the activists walked on to the grass area and unfurled a huge tarpaulin, on which they continued debate, with an inspirational offering from Kerry-anne Mendoza (aka Scriptonite).

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Heritage Wardens and police kept interrupting proceedings and attempting to hand over pieces of paper and information to members of the group, but were mostly ignored. Police numbers were also building up, with TSG officers arriving on the scene, and suddenly a dozen or more officers bundled into the crowd, ignoring the shouts that there were elderly and infirm individuals present, and they made their first arrest of the evening, targeting Donnachadh McCarthy, author and media activist. The authorities clearly see him as some sort of focus, as this is the fourth arrest he has endured.

From then on, the evening descended into a petty legal farce and police actions which successfully disrupted the planned events. Superintendent Kohli, heading the police operation, began the evening in assured form claiming his conscience was clear, but as legal arguments ensued, he was heard arguing with CPS about whether CCTV was needed to support any charges, and later literally refused to speak with Bindman’s lawyers and drove away into the night. See the video.

Each of the several more arrests over the evening followed the same bizarre pantomime. A Heritage Warden, surrounded by a large group of TSG officers, would randomly select a member of the public on the grass and (if they didn’t run away), would ask them to leave the grass, without giving any reason for the request. He then claimed they were breaking a Bye-Law by not following a “reasonable direction”, but constant requests to be told the “reason” for the request were ignored. He then asked for a name and address, and if refused, police piled in to arrest the person targeted.

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At one point, people in chorus (using the ‘mic check’ technique of call and response), described to the wardens and officers that some months ago, a Bindman’s solicitor had explained to the commanding Inspector why this exact same scenario was unlawful, and as a result he had withdrawn nearly 200 officers allowing the occupation to continue peacefully – this caused the police and wardens to withdraw and huddle for a while, but they returned for more arrests soon after.

The argument lies around whether a Warden can just issue a direction to leave (which clearly opens him/her up to the dangers of discrimination or infringement of human rights), or whether the “reasonable direction” has to have one of the reasons defined by the rest of the Bye-Laws.

The arrestees were released hours later, and all except Donnachadh, who is facing other charges, were told there would be ‘No Further Action’. Thus, the entire police operation seriously disrupted a peaceful and probably entirely lawful assembly by a few dozen people wishing to discuss the state of democracy in front of Parliament. It seems the occupy movement have a point.

They returned the next day and again held many of their workshops (with topics including ‘feeding the homeless’, ‘black activism’, ‘Greece and Syriza’) on the pavement next to Churchill’s statue.

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Romayne Phoenix

Romayne Phoenix

But when they peacefully moved to the grass, they faced further intimidation and harassment from wardens and police threatening further arrests.

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They finished the day by holding a small rally in front of Parliament.

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Superintendent Kohli certainly had CCTV covered on the Sunday, with a crew of four mysterious figures observing and filming from an overlooking window, and an unmarked green van sporting a powerful surveillance camera just behind the gates of Westminster.

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Occupy Democracy return to the Square on the day of the massive Climate March next month on the 7th.

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Occupy Democracy in Parliament Square Sat. 24th Jan 2015

Occupy have held several events in Parliament Square over the last few months (covered in previous blogs). Their attempts to hold democratic peaceful meetings in front of the so-called ‘Mother of Democracy’ Parliamentary buildings, have been met with repression ranging from petty and laughable jobsworthism to full-blown police aggression. The Mayor of London has spent huge amounts (according to FoI requests more than a quarter of a million pounds of public money last October alone) putting up huge ugly fencing in the name of protecting the grass and the area’s “heritage” for tourists. Interestingly, the word ‘heritage’ was until very recently purely about inheritance, possession and ownership, rather than its currently implied connection with culture, so perhaps Boris is being at least etymologically honest.

At the weekend, there was a large anti-Trident protest near Parliament, so ‘Occupy’ called for a follow-on assembly in Parliament Square discussing and highlighting the corporate connections and influence on Government policy around the issues of arms sales, war, and nuclear weapons.

As the Trident protest ended in Old Palace Yard, a couple of hundred activists marched on to Parliament Square, ignoring a “Heritage Warden” who tried to repel them, and setting up some large banners and making themselves comfortable for an afternoon of debate, speakers, and occasional music.

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The “Heritage Wardens” were originally meant to stop pigeon-feeders, anti-social behaviour, and illegal trading, but their powers were extended dramatically by new Bye-Laws based on the contentious PRASRA law which was written as a direct response to Brian Haw’s continued successful 10-year peace vigil, and the threat of Occupy encampments following the St.Paul’s protest in solidarity with Wall Street.

So now, these wardens work for a small private security business managed by an ex-soldier who served in Afghanistan. Perhaps you remember that one of the reasons the corporate media told us we had to fight the Taliban was that they didn’t allow anyone to play musical instruments? We were apparently going to bring the Afghan people freedom from such draconian repression. How ironic then, that this veteran now has his private troop of jumped-up caretakers running after a gentle acoustic guitarist, as they did on Saturday, and as they can be seen doing on a regular basis in Trafalgar Square, warning that the playing of musical instruments is prohibited.

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Watched by police Forward Intelligence Teams, with more than half a dozen police vans parked round the Square, and listened in to by several more intelligence officers dressed as Police Liaison in their baby-blue, a group of around a hundred stayed well into the evening.

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In defiance of the Bye-Laws and the past police violence and arrests, they held their ground for several hours into the cold night, and handed round a tiny megaphone, while sitting on tarpaulin (both acts banned by the Bye-Laws), as they discussed what ‘Occupy’ stands for, what its demands are, and how to counter the corporate control of Government and develop a true democracy based on the will of and acting for the good of ordinary people.

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This tiny and completely peaceful act of defiance (hardly noticed by the corporate media or the world at large) showed up the insanity of previous expensive and pointless repression and symbolised how disobedience can win small battles, and as we know from history, can eventually create vast changes.

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‘Occupy’ have launched a Judicial Review against the Mayor of London over the previous fencing and repression (https://www.liberty-human-rights.org.uk/news/press-releases/liberty-launches-judicial-review-fencing-around-parliament-square-gardens), and have announced their return for a weekend occupation of the Square beginning on 14th February, with the fitting theme of love, equality and representation.

http://www.occupydemocracy.org.uk

Occupy returns to Parliament Square

This morning, Occupy activists began another weekend occupation of Parliament Square. Once again, fences have gone up, not just around the grass (supposedly closed for repairs), but also around all the concreted areas, along with high fences around the grass in front of the Supreme Court at the rear of the Square.

GLA notices state that the Square is closed to the public, and warn that “failure to comply with a reasonable request from an authorised officer is a criminal offence” – this begs the question, what is “reasonable”? It’s hard to get any “reason” for the closure, mainly because if the authorities admit it is in order to stop protest, they will fall foul of human rights law, so they contort themselves into totally unreasonable knots to avoid stating the bleeding obvious.

GLA notice

Unperturbed, the activists set up on the pavement at the front of the Square, sitting on a tarpaulin to listen to various speakers throughout the day, including a fascinating history of squatting and squatting law by Phoenix.

Pheonix on squatting

They received regular honks of support from passing motorists, who could hardly miss the huge “Real Democracy” banner held throughout the day by several volunteers.

Honk

Banner

Policing was fairly low-key for much of the day, but very intelligence-led, with FIT photographers working there this morning, a very high definition camera on a stalk above an unmarked van parked up behind the gates at Parliament, and some Police Liaison Officers, who showed their real agenda by mainly liaising with the Heritage Wardens rather than the activists.

Liaison

Police surveillance camera

Meanwhile, up the road at Downing Street, there was a protest about fuel poverty, with two men stripped down to Bermuda shorts, occasionally joined by a third, braving the cold in solidarity with the growing number of UK citizens unable to heat their homes.

Fuel Poverty

Fuel Poverty at Downing St

They are promoting Fuel Poverty Action’s “Energy Bill of Rights” which you can find out how to support by visiting their website.

Occupy have announced that 30 volunteers are holding the protest area overnight, and you can see their full programme of events for tomorrow here.

UPDATE – around 8pm, activists opened the barriers and asserted their rights to enter the Square. Some activists sat on a tarpaulin and a large number of police with no more pressing business (must be a very quiet crime night in London) arrived on the scene.

No austerity at Parliament Square

Earlier this evening, up to a hundred people gathered at Parliament Square for the start of a weekend of workshops, conversations, talks, music, entertainment and planning. The ‘occupy’ movement found that Boris’s GLA fences have been extended even further, so the whole square is now out of bounds to the public.

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Despite the announcement that 12% of police jobs are under threat due to austerity cuts, it seemed no expense was spared to protect the grass from spontaneous democracy tonight, with around 60 police spread out a few feet apart entirely encircling the perimeter fences, as well as the “heritage wardens” keeping guard inside, and police photographers and their intelligent-gathering ‘police liaison officers’ mingling with the crowd and journalists on the thin strip of pavement at the front.

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02 occupy N21

Despite threats of arrest, there is still no law against gathering or even protesting, only a set of restrictions that make it very difficult, so the occupation goes on, and after some marching , the group later found a safer space with more room behind the square in front of the Supreme Court.

One person was arrested near the Nelson Mandela statue after a good-natured attempt to break through one of the fences.

There’s some great coverage with live video feeds, but check out the programme of events and join in if you can.  occupydemocracy.org.uk