LONDON (Reuters) - Trade unions said on Tuesday their march this weekend will be the country’s biggest protest for years, but police fear splinter groups will attempt to repeat last December’s street violence.
The Trades Union Congress (TUC) said more than 100,000 people are expected at the march on Saturday to protest at deep government spending cuts and tax rises.
Brendan Barber, TUC’s general secretary, said he expected it to be the largest demonstration since up to a million people took to the streets on the capital in 2003 to oppose the planned invasion of Iraq.
“I suspect this will be the biggest since then,” Barber told reporters. “There’ll be a lot of people coming from every part of the country. It’s going to be a very big event.”
The protest will also be the largest seen in London since a demonstration in December by students angry at a proposed rise in university tuition fees erupted into the worst rioting seen in the capital for decades.
Government buildings were vandalised, there were running battles between protesters and police, and the limousine carrying Prince Charles and his wife Camilla was attacked.
While the TUC is planning a family-friendly, peaceful event, internet websites and chatrooms have indicated that some groups are looking to take direct action, such as occupying part of London’s Hyde Park.
“Take over, strike, occupy, release all hell,” said one such website, the battleforbritainmarch26.
Police have warned they will not tolerate any disorder and 4,500 officers will be on duty while hundreds of trained TUC stewards will be helping to organise the march.
“We would be naive to ignore the chatter on some public forums,” said Assistant Commissioner Lynne Owens.
“I must stress that strong views can never legitimise violence. Whilst we are planning for a peaceful day, we will not hesitate to respond speedily to any criminal or violent behaviour.”
Barber has said he does not want any trouble to overshadow the march’s aim of showing the government the level of public opposition to its austerity measures.
“If protests simply lead to a great public debate about police tactics for example, that doesn’t seem to me to have advanced the real cause that matters,” he told Reuters in an interview on Monday.
Editing by Steve Addison