Army flies in extra police for the battle of Gleneagles

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The Independent Online

Thousands of protesters clashed with police outside Gleneagles as they tried to storm the grounds where leaders of the world's richest nations were meeting, amid the largest security operation ever staged in Britain.

Police flew in reinforcements in Chinook helicopters as anti-capitalist activists, some waving flags, others dressed as clowns, broke through the perimeter fence that protects the G8 conference site yesterday. It is the first time military helicopters have been deployed by police against civilians on the British mainland.

The protesters attacked a security tower, smashing panels and lights, shortly after the arrival of President George Bush. At least one man was injured as long lines of police carrying riot shields and extended batons, backed by mounted officers, drove the breakaway group back through the fields.

In Auchterarder, the nearest town to the summit, there were skirmishes between demonstrators and riot police, many of them drafted in from forces across England and Scotland. More than 10,500 have been deployed; 5,000 are on duty in Auchterarder, where they outnumber residents.

Michael Todd, 20, a local man, was injured in a police charge there. "I fell to the ground and now I am covered in blood," he said, his head swathed in bandages.

The demonstrators who broke through the security line had split from a noisy but good-natured march of 10,000 peace protesters that went ahead despite being abruptly banned by the police yesterday morning. The action came after Scotland's motorway network was paralysed by blockades by small groups of anarchists. The M9 was brought to a standstill.

Tayside Police allowed the march to go ahead as they realised dozens of coaches were already on their way to Gleneagles. Gill Hubbard of G8 Alternatives, the umbrella group for the protesters, said: "The people of Scotland will be on our side and we are delighted about that. We will not give up our democratic right to protest on our streets." At the head of the march were the human rights lawyer Aamer Anwar, Scottish Socialist Party leader Colin Fox, Rose Gentle, whose son Gordon was killed in Iraq, and the Respect MP George Galloway. Mr Galloway said after speaking to police through the security fence: "It comes to something in our country when we are stopped by riot police protecting these criminals inside at our expense."

There were running battles in Stirling, not far from Gleneagles. About 300 hooded extremists smashed up a Burger King after spending the night at an "eco-camp". Rail services between Stirling and Edinburgh were suspended.

David Mulhern, deputy chief constable of Central Scotland Police, said 53 people were arrested in Stirling. "Five officers were taken to hospital after being struck with objects which were either thrown or used as weapons."

In the centre of Edinburgh, scene of violence on Monday, Princes Street was closed as 500 protesters staged an impromptu demonstration after hearing that the Gleneagles protest had been cancelled. Retailers, many of them still with boarded-up shop fronts, said they had lost millions of pounds in trade. Financial institutions sent non-essential staff home as the tension mounted.

Police warned anyone without a ticket not to attend last night's The Final Push concert at Murrayfield, which is the finale of the Make Poverty History campaign. Some 50,000 people turned out in the rain to watch stars including Travis, Bono and James Brown perform.

Earlier, police claimed to have foiled a planned blockade of Edinburgh that would have prevented delegates reaching Gleneagles. Hundreds of officers were sent to the Sheraton Grand Hotel early yesterday where many G8 staff were staying after demonstrators blocked strategic routes into the city.

Bob Geldof was caught up in the stand-off and had to be escorted by police from the Balmoral Hotel. He said there was "no comparison" between those committed to violence and the hundreds of thousands that had taken part in peaceful protest.