I've been out covering the G20 protests in the City today, and aside from a few serious incidents for the most part they were peaceful. Although the big diplomatic events with the world leaders won't take place until tomorrow at Canarry Wharf, the big protest day was scheduled for today in The City, London's financial district. Most of the action was centered at the Bank junction, a large intersection which has the honour of hosting the headquarters of several major British banks, but most notably the country's national bank, the Bank of England. With it's giant imposing walls, much resembling a medeival fortress, it made an appropriate backdrop to a demonstration against the capitalist system.
The day started out fairly quietly. I did a phone-in report for RTE in Ireland at 10 am and at that time there wasn't more than a few people milling about in front of the Bank of England. But soon four groups of protesters marched to the intersection from four different tube stations. They were organised by a group calling itself the "G20 Meltdown," and they were supposed to represent the four horsemen of the apocolypse. Things started off with more of a carnival atmosphere, but after a few hours they got ugly. The police were using a cordoning strategy and seperated the protestors at the Bank of England into two goups, not allowing anyone to enter or leave those areas. Both peaceful and violent protestors started to become angry that they weren't being allowed to leave, and that was when altercations with the police began. At this point however they were still fairly minor, and the police weren't yet wearing riot gear.
Soon however a group of protestors managed to break the windows of the headquarters of the Royal Bank of Scotland, and throw smoke grenades inside. Plumes of red smoke came billowing out of the broken windows, and in the confusion a group of protestors were able to storm the building. They quickly started throwing office equipment out of the windows. It took a surprisingly long time for police to get control of the situation. It was at this point that riot gear police entered.
I was able to get out of the Bank of England area using my press pass, and I headed over to Bishopsgate where the climate change protest was happening. This gathering had an entirely different atmosphere. Protestors had converged on the street outside the European Climate Exchange and quickly set up tents in the road. People were singing, dancing, meditating, you name it. As far as I'm aware, there weren't any violent incidents at this gathering.
What was surprising was that the demonstration that was predicted to be the most likely to result in violence, the march from the American Embassy to Trafalgar Square, had the lowest turnout and was the most uneventful. Interestingly, the anger at these protests didn't seem to be directed at the United States, but rather at bankers or at the global capitalist system. One can only imagine how different these protests would have looked if George W. Bush was still in office. Gone were the effigies and burning American flags that usually accompanied Mr. Bush during his visits to Europe. In fact I would hypothesize that the presence of Mr. Obama at this summit went a long way in diffusing what could have been a very violent day of protests.
Of course there are still two more days to go, but it looks like the danger of violent demonstrations has passed. Now it's on to the real show, the actual G20 summit. Tonight the 20 world leaders are meeting for dinner, and earlier today Gordon Brown assured the press that the world was "hours away" from a new agreement on the economy. But analysts are cautioning not to expect anything big to come out of this. Summits usually only produce big results if the participants are all in agreement ahead of time, and that is definitly not the case here. German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy have formed an alliance resisting further stimulus money and demanding greater regulatitalist system. Sarkozy has even said he will walk out of the summit if the demands of the continent aren't met. Essentially, this summit could come down to team Obama-Brown versus team Sarkozy-Merkel.
Whichever team you're rooting for, it's nice to see Merkel and Sarkozy getting along again.