Rioters battle UK police after anti-cuts rally

Sat Mar 26, 2011 7:20pm EDT
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By Stefano Ambrogi and Tim Castle

LONDON (Reuters) - Black-clad, masked youths battled riot police and attacked banks and luxury stores in central London on Saturday, overshadowing a protest by more than a quarter of a million Britons against government spending cuts.

Police said they had arrested more than 200 people after anarchist groups splintered from the main union-led protest march and fought running skirmishes with riot police across the West End shopping and theater district.

They threw flares and paint bombs and smashed their way into branches of HSBC and Santander banks. Banks are blamed by many Britons for a financial crisis that helped prompt the government to implement the deepest spending cuts in a generation.

Hooded figures climbed on to the roof of luxury food store Fortnum & Mason while other protesters attacked the exclusive Ritz hotel and started fires at several locations.

Late in the evening, 200-300 protesters occupied Trafalgar Square where they tried to damage an electronic clock counting down to the 2012 London Olympic Games before helmeted riot police moved in to disperse them amid a hail of bottles.

The clashes deflected attention from a peaceful rally to protest against public spending cuts, tax rises and pension reforms introduced by the Conservative-led coalition.

Union leaders and police said over 250,000 people joined the biggest demonstration in the capital since protests against war in Iraq in 2003.

The coalition, in power since last May, is pushing ahead with a tough debt reduction program to virtually eliminate a budget deficit, running at about 10 percent of GDP, by 2015.   Continued...