Reclaim The Streets, a radical environmental group dedicated to fighting what it sees as the cult of the motor vehicle, took over Upper Street, Islington, one of London's busiest roads, to try to prove that cities are better without cars.
The protest had begun at lunchtime and by about 8pm the demonstrators had dwindled to a hard core of about 200 people. Police then moved in to clear the road and sporadic fights broke out as the protesters were driven away from Upper Street. About 150 riot police drove the remaining protesters towards Kings Cross station. More scuffles broke out, several windows were smashed and half a dozen bottles and cans were thrown at the police as the protesters fled the area.
Until then, the event had been peaceful. At about 2pm 1,000 people, acting as a catalyst for the demonstration, poured out of Angel Tube station and on to one of London's busiest junctions. Simultaneously, scores of other protesters, who had been hiding in side streets, ran on to the road and blocked the traffic.
An armoured personnel carrier then drove into the centre of the road, the rear doors were flung open and a sound system began pumping out the Jimi Hendrix song "All Along The Watchtower".
The traffic was thrown into chaos and half-mile tailbacks swiftly built up in all directions. Protesters wearing climbing equipment scaled more than a dozen lamp-posts and unfurled banners calling for an end to the "tyranny of the motor car".
The street was carpeted and food stalls erected. A children's sand-pit and playpool were also built, while some campaigners wandered along the lines of traffic handing out cool drinks to those trapped in the sweltering heat.
Police officers moved in quickly to divert traffic around the centre of Islington.
A spokesman said the protest was designed to raise public awareness of problems associated with car use. "We're here to show that life is a lot pleasanter without cars. We want to see car access to cities restricted and more pedestrianised areas within them. We also want a co-ordinated transport policy with the emphasis on cycling, walking, trains and buses."
The spokesman claimed that cars devastate the countryside, rivers and cities, displacing wildlife, archaeological sites and communities. He added: "They also lead to out-of-town developments, such as superstores that kill local businesses and destroy more countryside." If the motorists trapped in traffic did not share his sentiments. Stuart Loader said the problem is that people are still able to reach their destination by car even though the delays are frequent and long. "Unless something is done people will bring their cars into the cities so the situation won't to improve it will just get worse."
For Matthew Goss, who was unable to get to his home, the protest "ruined my whole day".
But one bus driver, trapped in a queue of about 20 empty buses, said he was in favour of the demonstration. "It's anti-car not anti-bus, so I can't complain. And they've been giving out free drinks, too."