Obama can expect a week of protests ahead of G-20

British bankers won’t wear ties as groups threaten violence ahead of the economic summit in London.

Toby Melville/Reuters
Demonstrators gather at a rally in Hyde Park in central London on Saturday. Thousands of people marched in Britain, France and Germany to protest about the global economic crisis and urge world leaders to act on poverty, jobs and climate change at a G20 summit next week.

Saturday's protest march by some 35,000 people went off peacefully here, in fact there was a carnival atmosphere, complete with brass bands and clowns.

But British authorities are preparing for a difficult week in the run up to Thursday's Group of 20 meeting of world leaders. Many fear that protests planned could spill over into the type of street riots not seen here for years.

Bankers and others working in London's financial heart have been advised by the authorities to dress down and swap suits for casual wear. On Wednesday (April 1), a disparate collection of activist groups plans to occupy the city for what they bill as a "Financial Fools Day."

Why no ties?

Last week, anonymous individuals vandalized the Edinburgh, Scotland, home and car of Fred Goodwin, the former head of the Royal Bank of Scotland, whose bank received a government bailout and who has become a focus for public anger over his refusal to return a $24 million pension.

More than 10,000 shifts will be worked by police this week in London by officers from all over the country as part of a security effort estimated to cost $10 million.

All time off for London police has been canceled, and reinforcements have been brought in to bolster the ranks of more 3,000 officers on the day of Wednesday's protests, which senior officers have predicted will be "very violent," according to press reports.


Potential flash points include an event called "G-20 Meltdown," which will see groups converging on the Bank of England for spontaneous live music, street theater, and the hanging of effigies of bankers.

One of the organizers, Chris Knight, was suspended last week from his post as a lecturer in anthropology at the University of East London after telling the BBC that real bankers could also be "hanging from lampposts."

In a separate newspaper interview, Mr. Knight warned, "If they [the police] want violence, they'll get it." He went on to advise bankers that on April 1 "if you're thinking of coming in, my advice is don't."

At the same time as the Bank of England protests, at least 1,500 ecological activists will march on the European Climate Exchange carrying tents and other supplies needed for a 24 hour occupation, while left-wing groups, British Muslim organizations, and thousands of members of the public will march on the United States Embassy in London.

In addition to the publicized protests, police are on the alert for sporadic occupations of banks and public buildings, attempts to block the movement of G-20 delegations, and vandalism by various fringe anarchist groups.


Leading protest organizers have publicly rejected suggestions that they are out to spark violence.

"We are organizing a public assembly in a public place," says Michael Rainsbro, a student studying for a doctoral degree in Belfast, Northern Ireland, who is part of the "G-20 Meltdown" events.

"What we are saying is threatening to a few bankers. It's about what we are saying, not what we are doing," Mr. Rainsbro said. "We want to say 'no' to the Bank of England, which has been a cornerstone of the UK economy and has presided over AIG-style bonuses for years and years."


Wednesday's events are being widely billed as the return of the anticapitalist movement which made its world debut on the streets of Seattle in 1999, when violent riots erupted as the city hosted the World Trade Organization's Ministerial Conference.

Since then, their agenda has been eclipsed by fears over terrorists following the Sept. 11 attacks in the US.

Now, however, the anticapitalist groups are back and, say they are better able to organize thanks to advances in technology, such as Twitter.

Their ranks include British and European "direct action" groups, whose targets in the past have included nuclear power stations and airports. Skilled at avoiding police surveillance, many are said to have prepared for this week's actions at mini-summits, where participants removed the batteries from their cell phones in order to avoid monitoring by the authorities.

The most radical members say they will settle for nothing less than the complete reorganization of society, regarding the election of President Barack Obama as little more than window dressing.

"We have pretty much decided to ignore him," adds Rainsbro. "There are two Obamas, the one in people's minds and the actual guy, who is as conservative as [President Bill] Clinton."

But if one asks the much larger, patchwork quilt of protest groups on the streets Saturday, the US president still appears to engender a sense of hope.

"We are more optimistic than we have been in the past," says Ashok Sinha, director of the Stop Climate Chaos Coalition, an umbrella organization that includes groups such as Greenpeace and claims to speak for a combined support base of 11 million people.

"Bush has gone and we know that Obama is going to be there, as well as people like Australia's Prime Minister Kevin Rudd," Mr. Sinha says. "They are putting hundreds of billions of dollars into fixing the global economy and we need a slice of that to be able to move away from fossil fuels to create a low-carbon economy.... I am optimistic they will realize that there will never be another chance like this to invest in low-carbon economies.

"I just hope that whatever happens, the G-20 listens to what people are saying."

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