Union leaders: Protests to continue over cuts

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Indy Politics

Union leaders today vowed to continue campaigning against the Government's spending cuts amid mounting anger at the trouble makers who clashed with police and damaged stores and other buildings during a huge TUC demonstration.

A leading Labour politician described those involved in clashes in the West End as a "tiny minority of violent, parasitic unrepresentative hooligans", while London's Deputy Mayor said they were "fascist agitators".

Unofficial estimates put the numbers taking part in the protest at nearly half a million, with tens of thousands of people still joining a march through central London as a rally in Hyde Park was under way.

A group of youths, wearing scarves to hide their faces, started attacking shops and banks well away from the march, causing tens of thousands of pounds worth of damage and clashing with some of the 4,500 police on duty.

The Metropolitan police said 201 arrests were made, with suspects being held in 21 police stations across London. The force is now reviewing evidence collected from CCTV cameras and police officers.

Although much of the debris left by yesterday's carnage had been removed by 9am, Trafalgar Square was still showing signs today of what had gone on.

The words "fightback" and "Tory scum" were scrawled on one of the four bronze lions, while red paint remained on part of the 2012 Olympics countdown clock.

A placard demanding "hands off Libya" was placed high on the statue of King Charles I.

TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber said that the so-called March for the Alternative exceeded expectations, with nurses, teachers, council staff, NHS workers, other public sector employees, pensioners, students and other campaign groups taking part in the biggest union-organised protest for a generation.

"It now looks like close to half a million people came to London to express their peaceful but powerful opposition to the Government's deep, rapid and unfair spending cuts.

"We are proud of the way that we organised our march and the way that our stewards helped ensure a good-natured and friendly event.

"Of course we condemn the small numbers who came looking for violence but we will not allow their actions away from our event to detract from our campaign.

"With the Budget a damp squib, the economy faltering and the NHS reforms becoming more unpopular each and every day, marchers will have returned home determined to step up their democratic campaign against policies that neither government party put before the electorate at the last election."

GMB leader Paul Kenny said the local elections on May 5 should be a referendum on the Government's economic and social policies.

"George Osborne and Nick Clegg say there is no alternative. The half a million who marched yesterday know what the alternative is. The Government's strategy is wrong, unfair and will not get the country working.

"The next step is for the alternative voice to be counted in the ballot box in May. GMB will urge voters to reject unemployment, poverty and cuts in public services. We will ask them to support an end to tax evasion by the super-rich and multi national companies and support a financial transaction tax.

"These two measures alone will raise at least £40 billion. We want voters to support curbs and controls on the excesses of the bankers and the elite, and for measures to grow the economy to get the unemployed back to work and paying taxes."

Shadow defence secretary Jim Murphy condemned those involved in the violence as a "tiny minority of violent, parasitic unrepresentative hooligans", while Deputy Mayor Kit Malthouse called them "fascist agitators" as he defended the actions of the police.

A police spokesman said officers had "come under sustained attack" as they tried to deal with the disorder and attempted criminal damage. The area was eventually cleared by around 2.45am today.

There were 84 reported injuries during the protests, including at least 31 police, with 11 officers requiring hospital treatment, five of whom were discharged and six were awaiting treatment.

The injuries were described as "relatively minor", including cuts and bruises, suspected whiplash and a possible broken collar bone.

Unions are planning fresh campaigns in the coming few days against cuts in the NHS as well as continuing to consider the prospect of co-ordinated industrial action.

Scotland Yard said two people were charged in connection with the disorder.

Omar Ibrahim, 31, of Glasgow Road, Baillieston, Glasgow, was charged with violent disorder and assault on police outside Topshop in Oxford Street. He was bailed to appear at City of Westminster Magistrates' Court in May.

A 17-year-old boy from Manchester will face charges of possessing an offensive weapon in a public place and going equipped for criminal damage.

He was bailed to appear at West London Youth Court on April 4.

The other 199 people arrested remain in custody.

Commander Bob Broadhurst, who led the police operation, said the violent groups "could not have been more markedly different" from the TUC march, which was "overwhelmingly peaceful and good humoured".

He revealed that the activists had developed their tactics to avoid police by keeping mobile, using small alleyways and covering their faces.

"Their intent appeared to be causing havoc, with no concern at all for those people in central London they were putting in danger.

"Officers came under attack, fires were set and shops attacked. These are criminal acts and I cannot call them anything different," he said.