G20 protesters smash windows and clash with police

LONDON Thu Apr 2, 2009 8:31am BST

1 of 14. An anti-G20 demonstrator watches as riot police form a line behind a fire near the Bank of England in London, April 1, 2009.

Credit: Reuters/Stefan Wermuth

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LONDON (Reuters) - Demonstrators clashed with riot police and smashed bank windows in London's financial district on Wednesday in protest against a system they said had robbed the poor to benefit the rich.

Hundreds of protesters converged on a branch of the Royal Bank of Scotland, shattering windows. Rescued by the government in October, RBS has become a lightning rod for public anger over banker excess blamed for the crisis.

The protests were timed to coincide with a G20 meeting of the world's leading and emerging economies.

Mounted police and officers in riot gear surrounded the building to keep the crowds back. Protesters hurled paint bombs and bottles, chanting: "These streets, our streets! These banks, our banks!"

Police said a number of officers had been injured, adding in a statement: "There have been a number of missiles thrown at officers and a number of surges at the police cordons, and increasing levels of violence towards police."

Earlier protesters marched behind models of the "four horsemen of the apocalypse" representing financial crimes, war, climate change and homelessness.

Some threw eggs at police and some chanted "build a bonfire, put the bankers on the top." Others shouted "jump" and "shame on you" at financial sector workers watching the march from office block windows.

"We have been robbed," said Vinzcente Oliver, 22, from northern England, protesting about how low interest rates have hit savers and pensioners. "I am coming to support the older people who have been working all these years. If we did any stealing we would go to jail."

Police said they had deployed one of Britain's biggest security operations to protect businesses, the Bank of England, the London Stock Exchange and other financial institutions.

The protests, which brought together environmentalists, anti-war campaigners and others, were meant to mark what demonstrators called "Financial Fools' Day" -- a reference to April fool's day which falls on April 1.

Some 4,000 protesters thronged outside the central bank. Demonstrators scuffled with yellow-jacketed, baton-wielding police. A Gucci store near the Bank was closed and its windows emptied.

RBS said in a statement it was "aware of the violence" outside its branch and "had already taken the precautionary step" of closing central city of London branches.

Wooden boards covered the war memorial in front of the Royal Exchange, once the centre of commerce in the City and now an upmarket shopping centre. Building sites and roadworks in the financial district were sealed to stop people using building materials as missiles or weapons, police said.

Police stopped a military-style armoured vehicle with the word "RIOT" printed on the front. A police spokesman said its 11 occupants were arrested for having fake police uniforms.

Some protesters carried a man-sized yellow bird on a stretcher to symbolize the death of London's second financial district Canary Wharf and waved banners saying "Capitalism isn't working."

(Additional reporting by Michael Holden)

(Writing by Peter Griffiths, editing by Kate Kelland and Janet McBride)

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