Green Protesters Invade British Government Building

By Mike Wendling | July 7, 2008 | 8:11 PM EDT

London ( - About 40 Greenpeace protesters briefly occupied a building site near the heart of the British government on Wednesday in a protest against the alleged use of African rainforest wood to refurbish office buildings.

The protesters walked though the main entrance of a Cabinet Office building shortly before 8 a.m. local time, declared the site an "ancient forest crime scene" and began removing and replacing doors and windows.

The protesters alleged that Prime Minister Tony Blair has broken a promise to procure timber used by the government from "legal and sustainable" sources.

"Today's expose shows he's totally failed to turn his words into action," said campaigner John Sauven. "Trashing African rainforests for the government's doors and windows threatens gorillas and chimps with extinction. Blair must act now to make good his promises."

During the protest, climbers scampered up the building's scaffolding and hung a banner that read "Dear Tony - Stop Ancient Forest Destruction."

All of the protesters were arrested or removed by noon and most were being held in police custody Wednesday afternoon.

The building in London's Whitehall government district is undergoing a $32 million refurbishment and will eventually house the Cabinet Office, which is responsible for the functioning of the British government. Construction on the building began in January and is expected to be complete by next year.

Wednesday's protests forced the closure of one central London bridge and traffic restrictions on another. A Cabinet Office spokesman said the protesters did not overrun any essential government offices or come into contact with officials and that the building was "essentially a building site."

He said security at the site would be reviewed, but declined to give further details. The spokesman also noted that the U.K. government considers environmental questions when building or refurbishing its offices.

"We have contracts that stipulate that wood must come from certifiable sustainable sources," he said. "It's something we take very seriously."

A Greenpeace representative said Wednesday that research into the wood used in the building proved it came from endangered African forests, and that final confirmation came during a conversation with an official from the construction company in charge of the site.

Greenpeace said that the protest was part of a larger campaign that includes blocking ships carrying "illegally and destructively logged" wood.

The organization has a history of sudden, unannounced direct action targeted at governments and corporations worldwide. During a protest against Washington's planned missile defense system last summer, around 100 activists evaded military security and overran a U.S. base in northern England.

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