Diggers drawn as tar sands protesters target RBS meeting

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Royal Bank of Scotland faces a wave of protests today over its financing of what environmental activists call "the most destructive and devastating companies in the world".

The World Development Movement (WDM) has timed demonstrations to coincide with the bank's annual general meeting in Edinburgh and is co-ordinating activities at 15 locations across the country, including RBS branches at Threadneedle Street in the City of London and others in Cardiff, Sheffield and Cambridge.

The focus of the protesters' ire is the bank's support for companies involved in the use of fossil fuels, particularly the extraction of oil from tar sands in areas such as Alberta, Canada.

Green groups claim that production of tar sands oil damages local habitats and accelerates global climate change. According to the WDM, RBS has loaned more than £10bn to fossil fuel companies and £1bn to those involved in tar sands since it was bailed out with £45.5bn of British taxpayers' money.

"It is unacceptable that our money is being used to finance projects that cause such serious harm to people's lives," said Deborah Doane, the WDM's director. In London, protesters driving a JCB digger – intended to symbolise the environmental disruption cause by tar sands extraction – will descend on the RBS branch near the Bank of England before proceeding to the Treasury and then on to the Houses of Parliament.

In Edinburgh, shareholders will pass a demonstration on their way into the AGM. A representative of the indigenous Canadian peoples affected by tar sands extraction will be inside the meeting and will question RBS's executives directly.

The Canadian activist, Eriel Tschkwie Deranger, said: "UK taxpayers have a right to know how their money is being spent. RBS is currently financing the largest and most destructive industrial project on the planet, destroying my people, my community and my traditional lands."

RBS says it has very limited direct involvement in such projects and emphasises its key role in supporting renewable energy schemes.

A spokeswoman for the bank said: "RBS continues to be a key provider of general lending and other banking services to international and domestic energy companies. This is not tied to specific projects, and the energy companies involved range from oil and gas to those focused on renewable energy."