Draconian police powers to disperse groups prompt protests

 

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The Independent Online

Draconian police powers which will allow officers to move on groups of two or more people near the site of the Olympic Games have come into force, prompting activists to patrol nearby streets in an effort to root out cases of "heavy-handed" policing.

Critics said the introduction of the Olympics Dispersal Zone bears resemblance to the Beijing Olympics, the organisers of which were criticised in the West over apparent attempts to stifle opposition.

"You would not expect it in what is supposed to be a free, democratic country," said Claire Laker-Mansfield, who is organising a host of demonstrations in east London.

Her group, Youth Fight for Jobs, plans to defy the order by entering the dispersal zone en masse and refusing to leave if ordered to do so. She said the group plans other protests and marches in the coming weeks.

And members of the Newham Monitoring Project held two training days last month for volunteer legal observers, who will document cases where they believe powers are being abused during the Games.

The Newham Monitoring Project is part of a network of police watchdog organisations, which organisers said will "gather evidence of police misconduct and abuse of powers".

One member of the group, Kevin Blowe, said that around 90 legal observers have been trained and that organisers hope to bring that number up to around 115 by the time the Games' opening ceremony takes place on 27 July.

The Metropolitan Police said the zone was set up to tackle anti- social behaviour but that the Olympic Games were a "consideration" when the decision was taken.

"Local residents and businesses have supported this initiative and both Waltham Forest and Redbridge Police have worked in partnership with the local authority to address concerns about anti-social behaviour in these areas," a spokesman said.

In the dispersal zone, police officers can force any groups of people to leave the area for 24 hours. Anyone aged under 16 can also be escorted home.

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