Police sealed off routes to the London Stock Exchange and Italian officers conducted nationwide raids following protests against economic inequality on four continents.
Metropolitan Police officers carrying batons and gas sprays manned steel barriers close to St Paul’s Cathedral in London, blocking supporters of the Occupy London Stock Exchange group from approaching the LSE. At least 25 police vans with wire-mesh screens and carrying additional officers were parked in side streets.
“We’ll stay for however long it takes to build a new democratic financial system,” said Kai Wargalla, a 26 year-old German studying sustainable economics in London, who’s one of those camping next to Christopher Wren’s 17th century church. “It’s about creating something new.”
The Occupy Wall Street demonstrations began last month, with about 6,000 people gathering in Times Square for what organizers called a “global day of action against Wall Street greed” on Oct. 15. The protests then spread to Europe and Asia, with more than 100 people injured in Rome after as many as 200,000 people gathered, the Corriere della Sera newspaper reported.
Italian police today launched raids in cities including Rome and Milan, according to the Ansa news agency, while gas masks and balaclavas were seized in Florence.
A board placed on Paternoster Square, home to the LSE, said the area is private and that “any licence to the public to enter or cross this land is revoked forthwith.”
The St Paul’s demonstrators had divided into “working groups” to formulate their demands and organize a kitchen, said protest spokeswoman Wargalla, who estimated as many as 250 people were taking part. About 4,000 people had signaled their intent to attend, a spokeswoman said on Oct. 12.
The London demonstrators said in an e-mailed statement that they opposed bailing out banks, public expenditure cuts, arms dealing, corporate profits, global oppression and war, while supporting genuinely independent regulators and “authentic” global equality.
The campers had been given indefinite permission to remain by cathedral authorities, who also asked police to leave the area, Wargalla said, and this “sets the stage for long-term occupation.” An e-mailed statement from the cathedral today did not explicitly support the protest and said that the building must remain open to the public. Clerics would not be giving interviews, a spokeswoman said.
‘Jail the Bankers’
“I want to see stricter regulation of the finance system,” said Joe Spence, 23, an anthropology student at Kent University. “I want a government that will not just pander to the banks.” A notice at the campsite, about 100 yards from the LSE, read “Jail the Bankers.”
A capitalist economy “is the quickest way to generate wealth,” LSE Chief Executive Officer Xavier Rolet said at a conference in London on Oct. 14. “What is profoundly disliked by -- I wouldn’t say average citizens in the street -- is the boom and bust cycle of the capitalist economy. This is directly connected in the mind of citizens to unemployment.”
In Amsterdam, protesters lined up at the entrance of the Amsterdam Stock Exchange this morning and greeted employees with slogans, broadcaster AT5 reported. Demonstrators burnt fake money and hosted an alternative exchange, bidding for “shares” titled stress, health, future and happiness.
About 50 people took over a disused hotel close to the Puerta del Sol square, the focus of demonstrations in Madrid, Efe news agency reported.
In Zurich, an estimated 1,200 protesters at the weekend occupied the Paradeplatz, home of Credit Suisse Group AG, the Swiss Social Democratic Party’s youth organization said in a press release. Over 60 people stayed overnight, until police asked them to leave this morning. Protests have now moved to the nearby Lindenhof, overlooking Zurich’s old town.
In Australia, about 30 people gathered in front of the central bank in Sydney. Signs on a nearby fence included: “When I do it, it’s counterfeiting. When the Reserve Bank does it, it’s called Quantitative Easing.” Another 70 protesters occupied Melbourne’s city square in front of the Westin Hotel.
Chicago police arrested about 175 protesters in Grant Park around 1 a.m. local time yesterday after they refused to disperse, the Chicago Tribune reported.
‘The 99 Percent’
Tokyo, Toronto and other cities also saw protests in support of the month-old movement, which organizers say represents “the 99 percent,” a nod to Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz’s study showing the top 1 percent of Americans control 40 percent of U.S. wealth.
In Hong Kong, protests extended for a second day yesterday after about 40 demonstrators slept overnight in a foyer beneath the Asian headquarters of HSBC Holdings Plc in the central financial district.
Equipped with tents, bullhorns and a gas-powered generator used to help them recharge their laptops, the protesters occupied the public thoroughfare under the building as about a dozen police stood by. Demonstrations were also held in Seoul and Taipei.
“Wall Street has a campaign to start asking questions about capitalism but this is not enough,” said art student Derrick Benig, 22, who slept in a tent overnight in Hong Kong. “I want to tear down capitalism.”
In Rome on Oct. 15, firecrackers were thrown at the Ministry of Defense and windows of Cassa di Risparmio di Rimini and Poste Italiane SpA shattered, Sky TG24 reported. Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi called “the unbelievable violence” in Rome “a worrying signal for civil coexistence.”
“Violent extremists have to be identified and punished,” Berlusconi said in a statement.
More than 800 people have been arrested in New York since the protests began Sept. 17, mostly for disorderly conduct, as demonstrators solidified their hold on Zuccotti Park, which has become the de facto epicenter of Occupy Wall Street.
A wider confrontation was avoided after the park’s owner, Brookfield Office Properties Inc., postponed a cleanup that would have removed and banned protesters’ sleeping bags, tents and other gear that provided overnight accommodations.
Protesters and local politicians had gathered 300,000 signatures, flooded the city’s 311 information line and drew more than 3,000 people to the park to oppose the cleanup, according to Patrick Bruner, an Occupy Wall Street spokesman.
“The world will rise up as one and say, ‘We have had enough,’” Bruner said in an e-mail. A news release from the organization said there were demonstrations in 1,500 cities worldwide, including 100 in the U.S.