Edinburgh battens down hatches as demonstrators descend on city

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Anti-poverty demonstrators arriving in Edinburgh for a week of protests have transformed Scotland's capital into a city under siege.

Up to 250,000 people are expected to take to the streets today for the Make Poverty History march. In one of the biggest security operations undertaken north of the border, all police leave in Scotland has been cancelled, thousands of reinforcements drafted in from England, court cases suspended, businesses closed and hospital staff put on alert to cope with possible violence.

Thousands more people are expected to arrive over the next few days for further protests in the approach to the G8 Summit at Gleneagles, which begins on Wednesday. The Chief Constable of Lothian and Borders, Paddy Tomkins, has described the task facing the force as the "greatest operational challenge in its 200-year history".

The Scottish Parliament building and the Royal Palace of Holyroodhouse have been cordoned off by an 8ft-high security fence, patrolled 24 hours a day by police. Many city centre banks, multinational firms and numerous retail outlets in Princes Street and beyond have boarded up their premises and closed for business. The National Gallery will also be closed.

The official G8 campsite, which can hold 15,000 people, opened yesterday to accommodate protesters arriving from all over the UK, France, Sweden, Germany and Ireland. Organisers said there was a "good chance" the site might be expanded.