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London Protesters Occupy Vacant Office Building Owned by UBS

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Anti-capitalist protesters in London who are camped outside St. Paul’s Cathedral and in Finsbury Square have also taken up residence in a vacant office building belonging to a unit of UBS AG.

“We have squatters’ rights,” said Pete Phoenix, 41, an environmental consultant, at the protest site. “If a building is disused and empty, we’re allowed to shelter there.”

About 28 protesters entered the building last night, aware it belonged to the Swiss bank, he said. The building will be used to house anyone who needs shelter or has been affected by government budget cuts, he said. The office block, owned by UBS subsidiary Sun Street Properties Ltd., comprises four multistory buildings on Sun Street, a minute’s walk from Finsbury Square.

The Occupy London group, inspired by the Occupy Wall Street protests in Manhattan, didn’t comply with an eviction notice issued by the City of London Corporation to clear tents and equipment from around the Cathedral by 6 p.m. yesterday. The group started the camp near the church on Oct. 15, after being denied access to land nearer the London Stock Exchange.

“We are aware of the situation and are taking appropriate action,” a UBS spokeswoman, who declined to be named citing internal policy, said in an e-mailed statement.


The London Metropolitan police received a call at 3:44 a.m. notifying them of protesters at “an address on an off street in EC2,” a spokeswoman said by phone, declining to be named because of internal policy. “A small number of officers are standing by to monitor the situation and prevent any breach of the peace,” she said.

The protest group is willing to negotiate with UBS and the police, Phoenix said.

“We’d like to talk to UBS about the billions of pounds they owe pensioners,” he said. “We are unhappy with the banking system and corporate greed. We want to be talking about solutions for the future.”

The protesters, who secured the front door with screws and a large metal rod, have hung a banner saying “Public Repossession” and another “UBS You Owe Us.” The group is looking at occupying more vacant office buildings in London, Phoenix said.

The group has a “legal claim to the space,” said Occupy London on its website. The office buildings, which also housed protesters during the Group of 20 meeting in London in 2009, will be used as a community center and reopen as the “Bank of Ideas” tomorrow, said Occupy London. An events program is being lined up, including talks from Palestinian activists and a session led by financial trader Alessio Rastani, said the group.

Youth Unemployment

Daniel Castelan, a 22-year old English literature graduate who moved into the building last night, said he joined the Occupy movement a month ago to protest against the U.K. government’s budget cuts.

“I’m participating because the government has become undemocratic, and is, frankly, a joke,” Castelan said as he strummed his guitar on the rooftop of the five-storied building overlooking offices near Finsbury Square. Castelan said he is “rigorously searching for jobs,” when he is not protesting.

U.K. unemployment rose by 129,000 to 2.62 million in the third quarter, as the number of young people looking for work climbed above 1 million for the first time in at least 19 years, the Office for National Statistics said two days ago.

“Whilst over 9,000 families were kicked out of their homes in the last three months for failing to keep up mortgage payments -- mostly due to the recession caused by the banks -- UBS and other financial giants are sitting on massive abandoned properties,” Occupy London protester Jack Holburn said on the group’s website.

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