LONDON – Faced with a determined Franco-German effort to stamp their mark on tomorrow’s Group of 20 summit in London, the last thing US President Barack Obama and his British opposite number needed was gatecrashers.
It was probably just as well, then, that British police swiftly arrested 11 anarchists in a fully equipped armored car this morning as the "day of action" threatened by thousands of protesters arrived.
Earlier in the morning, the full pomp of what Winston Churchill called "the special relationship" was on full display at 10 Downing Street during a joint press conference where Mr. Obama and Britain’s prime minister, Gordon Brown, were surrounded by their countries' flags.
"The United States is committed to working alongside the United Kingdom in doing whatever it takes to stimulate growth and demand and to ensure that a crisis like this never happens again," said President Obama, as the two leaders urged united action among G-20 leaders tomorrow.
But only about half an hour’s walk from Downing Street, action of a very different kind was underway as more than 4,000 protesters from a disparate alliance of activists campaigning on issues ranging from climate change to global poverty laid siege to the headquarters of the Bank of England.
Initially, a carnival-like atmosphere reigned, with mobile speakers blaring the voice of Bob Marley singing "Stand up for your rights" and a lone Scottish bagpiper serenading the mainly youthful crowds.
The mood turned ugly around lunchtime, however, as small groups of black-clad and masked youths began trading blows with baton-wielding police.
Nearby, a small number of protesters succeeded in breaking into the city center headquarters of the Royal Bank of Scotland, a beneficiary of one of the British government’s banking bailouts.
“We are here because it gives us a sense of empowerment and because we think that the cause of the financial crisis is the system itself,” said Kristen Forkert, a London-based Canadian student standing outside the Bank of England and holding a pillow aloft bearing the slogan "People Not Property."
“I am not hopeful about what the G20 will do tomorrow. What we need is an end to neo-liberalism, not more bailouts.”
While anger rises on the streets of London, this evening the queen will meet with President Obama and other G20 leaders as she hosts an elegant reception in their honor.
For sure, this is a tale of two summits.