London Eye halted by Turkish demonstrators

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The Independent Online

A small group of Turkish demonstrators occupied the London Eye yesterday and threatened to set themselves on fire in protest at security forces storming prisons in Turkey.

A small group of Turkish demonstrators occupied the London Eye yesterday and threatened to set themselves on fire in protest at security forces storming prisons in Turkey.

Around 600 visitors to the wheel were evacuated after 22 protesters took over two capsules at 2.30pm.

Children on board the wheel at the start of the protest wept as the demonstrators waved banners and chanted slogans.

The 800-capacity wheel was halted and fire crews placed on standby amid unconfirmed reports that the protesters - who had split into groups of 10 and 12 - had doused themselves in petrol.

They were protesting violence and death in Turkey, where security forces have stormed prisons in a desperate bid to regain control of them, and were yesterday fighting running battles with prisoners. At least 19 people have died so far.

One of the protesters, Sinan Umal, of the Detudak organisation representing political prisoners, said: "We are friends and family of Turkish prisoners being tortured and butchered and the least we can do is stage a protest."

The group was supported by around 100 demonstrators on the ground.

Allegations have been made that Turkish security forces had killed protesters by setting them alight, and then claiming that the prisoners had set themselves alight.

Teams of police negotiators were communicating with the protesters on the London Eye by mobile phone and through the wheel's intercom system. It was unclear whether the demonstrators had forced their way past London Eye security or entered as paying customers.

Andy Trotter, deputy assistant commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, said the group had made unspecified demands. "We are not in the business of giving in to demands," he said. "We are capable of waiting all night.''

The occupation of the wheel is the latest in a series of demonstrations by the group which included a siege of a Turkish newspaper in Soho, Central London, last week.

Since its delayed opening in February the London Eye has become a frequent target for protest groups.

In October, eight protesters climbed to the top of Eye to protest at dam-building projects in Spain and India.

In August, it was brought to a standstill when David Rolstone, 53, of Narberth, West Wales, climbed it as part of a worldwide series of demonstrations calling for an end to 10 years of UN sanctions against Saddam Hussein's regime.

In March, more than 150 student nurses boarded the Eye to highlight their campaign for better pay and conditions. They brandished banners from a pod before going to Parliament to lobby their MPs.

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