London prepares for ‘unprecedented’ G-20 protests


British PM Gordon Brown welcomes U.S. President Barack Obama and wife Michelle to Downing Street.
U.S. President Barack Obama arrived for early morning talks at Downing Street Wednesday with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, as London braced itself for massive protests ahead of Thursday’s G-20 summit.

The summit brings together leaders and financial chiefs from the top 20 industrialized and emerging economies, along with leaders from non-G-20 nations. Top of the agenda is the current global financial crisis. Metropolitan Police leaders have warned that the British capital faces an “unprecedented” wave of protests and are set to deploy thousands of officers on the streets to maintain public order. The main focus of Wednesday’s protests is an event dubbed “Financial Fools Day” in which anti-capitalist and environmental campaigners plan to converge on the Bank of England at the heart of London’s City financial district at midday local time (7 a.m. ET) for a “mass street party.” CNN producer Simon Hooper reported that commuter trains into Liverpool Street station, a major transport hub in central London, were quieter than usual, with many workers heeding police advice to “dress down.” There was also a significant police presence, with around a dozen officers standing guard outside the Royal Bank of Scotland’s London offices nearby. Wednesday’s protest, organized by an umbrella group called “G-20 Meltdown,” will feature four separate “carnival parades,” each led by giant “Horseman of the Apocalypse” puppets. A flyer for the event, carries the slogan “Storm the Banks!” and features images of French revolutionaries storming the Bastille in 1789 and a mannequin of a banker hanging from a noose. “We’re going to reclaim the City, thrusting into the very belly of the beast: the Bank of England,” the G-20 Meltdown Web site declared. Organizers of the protest insist their intentions are “theatrical,” promising “mirth, merriment and the love in our hearts” and urging participants to “bring food to share, water, tea making facilities, something to sit on, a pop up tent if you plan to stay late.” Watch the security challenge that the summit poses » But activists also published a map Tuesday with the details of scores of banks, financial companies, law firms and trading exchanges with offices in the City, prompting fears that symbols of capitalism could be targeted.

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“It is believed that the majority of the protesters intend to conduct a peaceful demonstration,” the police said in a statement. “Businesses should however, remain vigilant at all times and ensure that buildings are secure. Banks and financial premises are the targets of the protest although this could extend to all premises in the city.” Several other events are also planned Wednesday, including environmentalist plans to set up camp outside the European Climate Exchange in the City and demonstrations near the Excel Centrex in east London where Thursday’s summit is due to take place. On Tuesday, authorities investigated a suspicious package found Tuesday in the vicinity of The Bank of England. CNN’s Paula Newton said a controlled explosion was heard shortly after the package was discovered. A spokesman for the Bank of England told CNN the building had not been evacuated. On Saturday, trade unions — backed by 120 other groups, including environmentalists, church groups and political campaigners — organized a peaceful march of thousands of people in the first protest ahead of the summit. Protesters called for jobs, fair distribution of wealth, and a low-carbon future.

The G-20 countries represent 85 percent of the world’s economic output. Also attending are hundreds of other officials, including the heads of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.

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