A crowd of placard-waving, chanting protesters, watched by scores of vigilant police, gathered on the steps of St Paul’s Cathedral, and then moved toward the London Stock Exchange building nearby. The mood darkened as the demonstration progressed and police began donning riot gear, but only one arrest was reported by early afternoon.
The principal organizer of the protest, christened Occupy the London Stock Exchange, was the anti-austerity movement UK Uncut, but several other groups joined the throng. They called for a clampdown on bonuses given bankers and more vigilance and penalties for high-income tax dodgers.
"We are here in solidarity with those protesting in the United States,” said Sean Murray, an engineering student at London University. "The problems we face are exactly the same -– a system in which a financial crisis was caused by bankers and people who make money, and people who don’t make money have to pay for it."
Julian Assange, founder of Wikileaks, told the crowd on the steps of St. Paul’s that he blamed greed, corruption and money-laundering in London for undermining the rule of law.
"Bankers get bailed out, we get sold out," leaders chanted as they marched toward the London Stock Exchange.
Joining the demonstrators, Michael Wynn, a school administrator, slammed the power wielded by those in the financial world. "I am sickened by the unofficial leadership of a few unelected and overprivileged financiers who are steadily destroying the world," he said.
His wife, Shiri Wynn, agreed, adding, "I don’t mind paying taxes, of course not, but we are all held hostage by this system where the outcome of our labor is managed by people who can’t imagine the way we have to live and don’t seem to care."
Anti-austerity movements have mushroomed throughout Europe as more public-sector workers fight their governments’ programs to cut their jobs, salaries and pensions.
Anti-austerity protesters took to the streets of other European capitals Saturday, particularly in countries hardest hit by economic cuts and unemployment, such as Rome, Madrid and Athens.
-- Janet Stobart