LONDON (Reuters) - The government will press ahead with spending cuts despite an anti-austerity march by more than a quarter of a million people in central London, Business Secretary Vince Cable said on Sunday.
Police said at least 84 people, including 31 officers, were injured and 201 people arrested after anarchist groups split off from the main union-led protest on Saturday and fought with riot police.
The clashes deflected attention from a peaceful rally to protest against public spending cuts, tax increases and pension reforms introduced by the Conservative-led coalition.
Cable said the government was listening to such concerns.
“But we are not going to change the basic economic strategy,” he told BBC television. “No government — coalition, Labour or any other — would change its fundamental economic policy simply in response to a demonstration of that kind.”
Police said over 250,000 people joined what was the biggest demonstration in the capital since protests against war in Iraq in 2003. According to unions, the number was close to half a million.
Brendan Barber, general secretary of the umbrella Trades Union Congress, said he condemned “the small numbers who came looking for violence.”
The coalition is pursuing a tough debt reduction programme to virtually eliminate a budget deficit, now running at about 10 percent of GDP, by 2015.
Many European countries have seen protests in recent months as governments cut public expenditures to try to help their economies recover from the global financial crisis.
In London, black-clad, masked youths smashed their way into branches of HSBC and Santander banks. Many Britons blame banks for a financial crisis that helped bring about the deepest government spending cuts in a generation.
Other protesters attacked the exclusive Ritz hotel and started fires at several locations.
The unions say the government measures go too far, too fast and are economically unsound, jeopardising future growth, and are also wreaking misery for millions of ordinary people, with unemployment at its highest level since 1994.
But Cable said that cutting less or taking longer to do so was not an option.
“When you do that ... the government has got to borrow more in order to finance this period and, as we know from what’s happening in financial markets in Europe, it’s actually very difficult for governments to borrow in these circumstances.”
Editing by Mark Heinrich