City braces itself for debt protest

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THE HEART of Britain's financial centre, London's Square Mile, was today bracing itself for an invasion of thousands of anti-capitalism demonstrators, protesting against debt in developing countries.

Up to 10,000 people are expected at the Carnival Against Capital, which aims to disrupt the City as part of a day of worldwide protest urging governments and financial institutions to waive interest payments on loans to developing countries. It comes on the eve of the G8 summit in Cologne, Germany.

The demonstration, organised by direct action pressure group Reclaim the Streets, is designed to paralyse the City. The Stock Exchange, Lloyds of London and the Bank of England have been told by police to step up security. It is feared that protesters may attempt to occupy premises, scale buildings to erect banners, and lock in staff. Some may even try to hack in to corporate websites and e-mail systems. The protesters have also recruited the Biotic Baking Brigade, notorious for throwing custard pies at leading figures.

The protest leaders are organised and well-versed in civil disobedience tactics. Key figures remain anonymous or use the codename Mark Sully, the name of a Metropolitan Police officer. Those taking part have been advised to bring food and are given a contact number in case of arrest. They will also have access to a map that lists the locations of police check-points and areas to picket.

The protest, which starts at noon at Liverpool Street Station, is likely to disrupt road and rail links. Some 240,000 people work in the City, and more than 100,000 vehicles pass through each day.

Other parts of London will also be disrupted. The Treasury building in Whitehall will be ringed with a human chain, and pickets will target various places, including employment centres, McDonald's restaurants and Gap clothes shops.

The City of London police are deploying up to 800 officers. A spokesman said: "We are not going to discuss tactical options but our position is that we will do everything to facilitate a peaceful protest. But if people indulge in criminal activity or threaten workers we will make arrests."

The Corporation of London began planning for the event in February. A spokesman said: "There was a rumour that there had been a run of second hand suits in Oxfam shops, with the intention that people could infiltrate some of the institutions. But the irony is that tomorrow will be `dress down Friday' for many places so those protesters are likely to stick out like a store thumb."