Violent Anti-WTO Protests in London

By Patrick Goodenough | July 7, 2008 | 8:07 PM EDT

London ( - Four men are to appear before London magistrates Wednesday after an anti-capitalist demonstration in the city -- timed to coincide with the WTO summit opening in Seattle -- turned violent Tuesday night.

The four suspects, ranging in age from 20 to 33, face charges of violent disorder, disorderly behavior and common assault.

They are among some 40 people arrested after riots closed a busy railway station in North London. Police are still questioning other people.

Several hundred out of a crowd of two thousand began hurling bottles, rocks and iron bars at police, set fires and torched a police vehicle. Six protestors were hurt, as was a police officer, who was hit over the head with a trashcan.

Four of those arrested are also being held on suspicion of key involvement in much larger, violent riots in the City of London business district on June 18, in which some 10,000 people smashed cars and offices, and battled with riot police.

"The actions of this minority have nothing to do with expressing a point of view or lawfully protesting about an issue," said police spokesperson Commander Judy Davison Wednesday.

"This is purely yobbish behavior - it is violence for the sake of it, unnecessary and unprovoked."

The violence was also apparently planned in advance: Some demonstrators came armed, and the mayhem was triggered by what seemed to be a pre-arranged signal - the letting-off of a firecracker.

Glen Smyth, chairman of the Metropolitan Police Federation, said the protestors' conduct was "tantamount to eco-terrorism and those responsible should face the full weight of the law. If you want to change the world there are ways to do it and this is not the way. This is a disgrace."

It was reported earlier this week that up to seven British anarchists had gone to Seattle to help co-ordinate demonstrations there.

Reclaim the Streets, one of the anti-capitalist groups that organized the demonstration, said Euston Station was chosen as a venue "to highlight the links between the free trade agenda of the WTO and the privatization of public transport in UK."

The rally had been peaceful, the group said on its website, hearing speakers on a range of topics from genetically-modified foods to Western sanctions against Iraq.

According to Reclaim the Streets, police surrounded the area, "protesters were directly met by a small number of police officers and a confrontation erupted."

It noted that four people were arrested in connection with "the carnival in the City of London" on June 18.

The organization was not taking calls at its London contact number Wednesday. A message left on an answering machine declared: "The violence of capitalist is constant, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. It's not just a good photo-opportunity."

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow