Anti-cuts march: Tens of thousands at London protest

Watch: The BBC's Sophie Long spoke to some people taking part in the march

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More than 250,000 people have attended a march and rally in central London against public spending cuts.

Labour leader Ed Miliband addressed crowds in Hyde Park and the main march organised by the Trades Union Congress passed off peacefully.

But small groups attacked shops and banks with a stand-off in Piccadilly. There have been 214 arrests and 66 people injured, including 13 police.

Ministers say the cuts are necessary to get the public finances in order.

In the largest public protest since the Iraq war rally in 2003, marchers from across the UK set off from Victoria Embankment to Hyde Park, where TUC general secretary Brendan Barber was first in a line of speakers.

"We are here to send a message to the government that we are strong and united," he said.

"We will fight the savage cuts and we will not let them destroy peoples' services, jobs and lives."

At the scene in Oxford St

A very small group of protesters, maybe three to four hundred people, stopped outside Topshop.

The police are being careful to communicate with people on the ground using social media, knowing many are young. One update is that there are no kettles so far.

Protesters are very worried they will get caught within police cordons - so there is a bit of a game of cat and mouse.

Lots of these protests are very fast-moving. We walk miles with these protesters as they try to keep out of police cordons.

We saw some scuffles with police. Watching all the time are shoppers - this is Saturday afternoon. It is not a violent atmosphere, but it's certainly a lively atmosphere.

Mr Barber was followed by Mr Miliband, who said: "The Tories said I should not come and speak today. But I am proud to stand with you. There is an alternative."

The march began at 1200 GMT and it took more than four hours for the protesters to file past the Houses of Parliament on their way to the park.

The TUC, which organised the event, said more than 250,000 people had taken part, and the Metropolitan Police confirmed the numbers.

BBC political reporter Brian Wheeler, in central London, said there were lots of families and older people, and the atmosphere was good-natured but the anger was real.

"The noise in Whitehall was deafening as thousands of protesters banged drums, blew whistles and shouted anti-cut slogans, slowly making their way towards Trafalgar Square.

"The crowds were booing as they went past Number 10, but the demonstration was good-natured and friendly.

"There are hundreds of trade union banners, but we have also spoken to public sector workers who have come to make their voices heard."

One of those protesting was Peter Keats, 54, from Lowestoft, Suffolk, who works for Jobcentre Plus.

Marchers in Whitehall Organisers estimated at least 250,000 people attended

He said: "Personally, I think it's wrong the way we are hitting the poor.

"I'm not so much worried about myself but the customers I deal with are vulnerable and I'm worried about them and I'm worried about the kids of this country."

Demonstrator Christine Nugent, a university research fellow, said: "The size and scale of it, and the range of people here, is great."

The veteran of anti-Margaret Thatcher demonstrations in the 1980s said protesters came from all walks of life, adding: "There are a lot of trade unionists here, but it's not just the usual suspects."

There have been separate incidents involving a number of protesters, some with their faces covered by scarves, away from the main march:

  • A sit-in organised by the campaign group UK Uncut took place at Fortnum & Mason department store in Piccadilly. The group has previously mounted protests against tax avoidance measures by big businesses
  • A bonfire was lit by protesters at Oxford Circus, where earlier police said light bulbs containing ammonia were thrown at officers
  • Topshop on Oxford Street had its windows smashed and was doused with paint
  • Missiles were thrown at the Ritz Hotel, Piccadilly
  • Bank branches including the Royal Bank of Scotland were attacked with paint and had windows broken, while branches of HSBC and Santander were broken into.

Scotland Yard said there had been 202 arrests for public order offences, criminal damage, aggravated trespass and violent disorder.

Start Quote

I agree with the protesters, they are fighting for the future. ”

End Quote Bonnie, Tunbridge Wells

Commander Bob Broadhurst said: "The main TUC march has been going well. We have had more than a quarter of a million people with hardly any problems.

"Unfortunately we have had a group of approximately 500 criminals committing some disorder including throwing paint at Topshop in Oxford Street and at the police, and scaring the public who are trying to shop."

Policing minister Nick Herbert said the government was "committed to supporting peaceful protest" and blamed the violence on "a small minority of individuals".

Police and protesters in Piccadilly A stand-off between police and splinter groups took place in Piccadilly

Mr Miliband condemned the violence, saying: "There is no excuse for it. It is unlawful and wrong."

Civil rights group Liberty said the march had been "infiltrated by violent elements" who attacked buildings before "melting into the demonstration once more".

Earlier, the largest union involved, Unite, said so many of its members had wanted to take part that it could not find enough coaches or trains to ferry them to London.

Its general secretary Len McCluskey said the scale of the deficit had been exaggerated.

Outlining his economic plan to the BBC, he said: "Our alternative is to concentrate on economic growth through tax fairness so, for example, if the government was brave enough, it would tackle the tax avoidance that robs the British taxpayer of a minimum of £25bn a year."

Education Secretary Michael Gove said he could understand the disquiet and anger.

"But the difficulty that we have as the government inheriting a terrible economic mess is that we have to take steps to bring the public finances back into balance," he said.

Mr Miliband is attending the march but is yet to sketch out an alternative, he added.

Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude on cuts

Matthew Sinclair, director of the Taxpayers' Alliance which lobbies for lower taxes and greater government efficiency, said: "It's understandable that people feel upset...

"But in the end it's not valid and what politicians should be doing is not encouraging this rally but saying look, you've got to be more realistic about the options facing this country."

Did you take part in the march? What is your reaction to Saturday's events? You can send us your views and experiences using the form below.

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Here are a selection of your comments so far:

I am a 21-year-old student from Goldsmiths and I was in Topshop when it was attacked. I just wanted to say how pathetic the protesters are and how bitter they are. These guys don't have a clue, making all those people scared and upset because they don't know a thing about money - they just want to rebel for the sake of it. Luke Hyland, London

I won't be there, as I am one of the many disabled people concerned by the impact of cuts in money and services but unable to cope with a march. I hope our 'virtual march' will be added to the numbers of protesters. T Williams, Sheffield

How many times is the BBC News Channel going to allow this Taxpayers Alliance representative to go unchallenged? The deficit is the fault of public sector pensions. It is the direct consequence of the banking crisis. Paul Krishnamurty, Somerset

My godchildren aged between six and 14 are attending the marches with their mother. It shows that the people involved are genuine, concerned citizens protecting not only the welfare of themselves but the welfare of the future as well. These protesters are real and must be heard. Daniel Kent, Camberwell

I have just seen on the BBC news the protests in London today. The police were pelted with lightbulbs filled with ammonia. What type of disgusting human beings would attack the police like that? The police are as angry as the protesters regarding the cuts being made by the government, but they have to protect what they're told to! Jane Simpson, Manchester

While I agree in freedom of expression, the vicious attack on Topshop should be condemned - we live in turbulent times and I feel compelled to show immediate support for the proven business acumen of individuals such as Sir Philip Green and any advice they may be able to offer to help the UK out of this recession. Lisa Abbate, London

I was not able to join the march today, but am totally supportive of the marchers. The current government is demolishing so much of what has been built up over time in the public sector for no clear reason, other than ideology. The young and the old, in particular, are already suffering. There are alternatives. Annie Feltham, Brighton

The sheer hypocrisy of Labour leaders to even show their faces at this event, let alone champion themselves as protectors of the public sector is quite frankly shocking. Lest we forget they're the ones who ran the public sector into the ground by growing it into a bloated, inefficient mess and throwing money at it that we simply didn't have - especially in the dying days of their last government, in a feeble attempt to win a few votes. The coalition is simply trying to sort out the mess of the country's finances left by Labour. Ian, St Albans

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