Bloomberg News

London Protest Group Spreads From Cathedral to Second Site

October 22, 2011

(Updates with second camp in first paragraph, march in fifth.)

Oct. 22 (Bloomberg) -- Global equality campaigners whose camp at St. Paul’s Cathedral prompted the closure of Christopher Wren’s 17th century masterpiece have established a second impromptu site.

Demonstrators, inspired by anti-Wall Street protests in New York and other major cities, held their ground after the cathedral’s Dean Graeme Knowles appealed to them to move because of safety fears. The protesters set up a prayer and meditation tent and portable toilets during the week as they campaign against the banks that have offices in London’s financial district.

“I’m a little bit more concerned about the stance the church is taking,” said Ronan McNern, 36, a spokesman for the group that’s calling itself Occupy London Stock Exchange, when asked about the protest’s impact on the cathedral. “They seem more concerned about health and safety here, not the health and safety of the world.”

Protesters began gathering in London on Oct. 15, pitching about 200 tents in the area around the cathedral and calling for an end to bank bailouts, cuts in public expenditure, arms dealing, corporate profits, global oppression and war. The group, which echoes similar protests in the U.S. and Japan, was blocked by police from approaching the LSE, which is about 100 yards from the camp site.

Second Camp

Today, some of those who had spent the week at St Paul’s were among about 100 people who marched the short distance from the cathedral to Finsbury Square, where attempts were made to establish a second camp.

The breakaway group, flanked by City of London police officers and riot vans, pitched blue and green tents on a grassy area adjacent to Moorgate.

“I was at the occupation of St Paul’s,” 21-year old Clare Coatman said in an interview by her tent. “The state the world is in today deserves dissent. The system has utterly failed the vast majority.”

The protesters erected wooden tripods in Finsbury Square, which sits between Liverpool Street and Moorgate subway stations, baring anti-capitalist slogans. They chanted “Who’s square? Our square” and beat drums as police looked on.

City of London Police confirmed that the group was intending to set up a camp overnight. “We have enough officers at St Paul’s and Finsbury Square to facilitate peaceful protest,” the force said in a statement.

‘Fire Hazard’

The decision yesterday to close St. Paul’s applies until further notice and was made “with a very heavy heart,” Knowles said as he asked the protesters to leave. The building was last forced to shut its doors during World War II when London was being bombed.

“With so many stoves and fires and lots of different types of fuel around, there is a clear fire hazard,” he said. “Then there’s the public health aspect, which speaks for itself.”

While the Church of England stood “alongside those seeking equality and financial probity,” the camp was affecting the cathedral’s daily life, Knowles said.

“In order that we might reopen as speedily as possible, we ask you to withdraw peacefully,” he wrote in an open letter to the demonstrators.

The cathedral was not motivated by financial concerns, according to Knowles. Even so, it cost 20,000 pounds ($32,000) a day to run the building and 80 percent of that was covered by revenue from tourists. The number of visitors has fallen since the camp was established, he said.

Volunteers

The camp site blocked access to fire trucks for both the cathedral and the chapter house, where many of the cathedral’s 200 staff and 100 volunteers work, Knowles said in an interview.

The decision didn’t involve either the Bishop of London, Richard Chartres, or the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, leader of the Anglican Church, Knowles said. Williams said in a 2009 interview with the British Broadcasting Corp. that bankers have failed to repent for their roles in the global financial collapse.

Chartres said that year that bankers “have a duty to be extravagantly generous, because to those to whom much has been given, much will be required.”

Communication with the protesters will continue, Knowles said. “We’re not pulling up a drawbridge,” he said. “We issued the letter and we hope there’ll be a response from the protesters.”

The church hasn’t yet decided what it will do should the protesters decline to leave, according to Knowles. To his knowledge, the church has no other suitable land in London it could offer, he said.

--With assistance from Howard Mustoe, Kevin Crowley and Simon Clark in London. Editors: Andrew Langley, Paul Sillitoe

To contact the reporters on this story: Chris Spillane in London at cspillane3@bloomberg.net; Ben Martin in London at bmartin38@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Edward Evans at eevans3@bloomberg.net


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