Rubble-filled skips, scaffold poles and café tables were being cleared from the streets of one of London's most affluent districts last night as police prepared for the annual May Day clashes.
Scotland Yard has drafted in about 5,000 officers to police a range of anti-capitalist demonstrations throughout the capital. Police intelligence has identified three likely flashpoints later today, which include a trade union organised march to Trafalgar Square and protests in the Mayfair area and busy Oxford Street.
Several businesses, including fur shops, jewellers, and luxury car show-rooms, boarded up their windows in central London yesterday amid fears that the violence seen at previous May Day anti-capitalist demonstrations would be repeated today.
Throughout the night, teams of council workers have been removing objects that could be used as missiles – such as rubble and bricks from building work, tables and chairs – and securing scaffolding.
Assistant Commissioner Michael Todd, the Metropolitan Police officer in charge of overseeing the policing of the day's protests, warned yesterday that there was new intelligence suggesting violent demonstrators may attempt to hijack a traditional trade union march in which up to 10,000 people are expected to take part.
Mr Todd said he was surprised that the trade union and labour movement organisers, who include the TUC, had allowed an anti-capitalist umbrella group, Globalise Resistance, to join the march from Clerkenwell Green to Trafalgar Square this afternoon.
"There are concerns that some people may try to subvert the demonstration," he said. "We have identified some known troublemakers and think they may try and get involved in some form of violence."
Mr Todd said his officers would be "interventionist" and if necessary "a bit in-your-face". "We will be tolerant of people's right to protest, but we will not put up with criminality."
He also warned that there were suggestions that organisers have asked demonstrators to make "individual protests" in Mayfair, which he said smacked of guerrilla tactics.
One May Day website says the central London district is "one of the most opulent and cloistered areas in the capital, full of luxury pads, exclusive shops, fancy hotels and national embassies". Teenagers are being urged to "bunk off" school and join the event, which the site says will happen "everywhere at once" to stay ahead of the police.
Scotland Yard are keen to ensure that demonstrators do not run riot as they did in the 2000 May Day protests in Parliament Square and Whitehall when a number of statues, including that of Winston Churchill, were defaced and a branch of McDonald's restaurant was wrecked.
Today's protests start with a mass cycle ride at 7.30am into the centre of London, which is expected to bring rush-hour traffic to a standstill. Later in the day, there will be demonstrations outside the American embassy in Grosvenor Square and a fur shop.
Organisers have advised protesters via the internet and posters to avoid forming large groups for fear of a repeat of last year when police corralled them into a small area of Oxford Circus and arrested 65 people.
As well as Mayfair, Oxford Street is once again expected to be a focal point for protesters, with plans for a mass football match.
Westminster City Council has written to residents and shopkeepers in the area warning them to take precautions. The authority estimates that the loss to business and likely damage to property is likely to cost between £10m and £20m.
But Guy Taylor, a campaigner for Globalise Resistance, said he was confident that the event the organisation is associated with this year – the TUC march – will pass without incident. "We are very well organised and stewarded and everyone is looking forward to a peaceful and successful march and rally," he said.
Privately, however, the organisers are concerned about the potential for problems once the official rally disperses at about 5pm, when some protesters are expected to make their way to the more unorthodox anarchist events in and around Mayfair.Reuse content