Tens of thousands of people marched across central London Saturday to demand jobs, economic justice and environmental accountability, kicking off six days of protest and action planned in the run-up to the G20 summit next week.
More than 150 groups threw their backing behind the "Put People First" march. Police said around 35,000 attended the demonstration, but there were large gaps in the line of protesters snaking its way across the city toward Speaker's Corner in Hyde Park.
Security was tight around a small group of people waving anarchist flags. Anarchists and others have promised violence before the G20 meeting Thursday, and the British capital is bracing for a massive police operation as representatives of the world's 20 leading economies — including U.S. President Barack Obama — fly in for a summit on the financial crisis.
The London protest takes place against the backdrop of a deepening global recession and growing public anger over bankers' pay and the painful fallout from the crisis. The marchers are pushing for a more transparent and democratic economic recovery plan.
In Britain, unemployment has risen above 2 million, house prices have fallen 11 percent in a year and industrial output has recorded its worst drop since 1981.
"The whole economic meltdown ... There's a really good opportunity for governments to get together and invest in a sustainable future," said unemployed Steve Burson, 49, marching with the protesters.
The biggest groups backing the demonstration include the Stop The War Coalition, whose supporters marched under the slogan "Jobs Not Bombs," Friends of the Earth, and the Trades Union Congress, an umbrella group of British trade unions, which is calling for Britain's crisis-hit manufacturing base to share in country's banking bailout.
"They should be solving (the crisis) in the interest of working people," said Andy Bain, the president of Transport Salaried Staffs' Association. "All the money is going to the rich."
Protesters whistled and booed British Prime Minister Gordon Brown's 10 Downing Street office — with one shouting: "Enjoy the overtime!" as they filed past.
Some G20 protestors have adopted slogans such as "Hang a Banker" and "Storm the Banks." More protests are planned Wednesday and Thursday, while left-leaning teach-ins, lectures, and other demonstrations are scheduled throughout the week.
Protests in Europe
There were other demonstrations aimed at the G20 summit throughout Europe on Saturday.
Berlin police estimated that around 10,000 people gathered in front of the capital's city hall and more than 1,000 in Frankfurt, Germany's banking capital, for similar demonstrations under the slogan: "We won't pay for your crisis."
Some demonstrators in Berlin sported headbands reading "pay for it yourselves" and carried placards demanding: "make capitalism history."
"We have no evidence that anyone attending intends to disrupt our plans, break the law or commit any acts of violence," said Glen Tarman, chairman of the organizers.