Extinction Rebellion to ‘pause’ London climate protests ahead of political negotiations after nearly 1,000 arrests

Activists say change of tactics will prove movement is ‘cohesive force’ and ‘not a rabble’


Harry Cockburn
Sunday 21 April 2019 23:50 BST
Extinction Rebellion protesters continue to block Oxford Circus and Waterloo Bridge in third day of action

Thousands of protesters who have occupied and held several landmarks across London for seven days, stopping traffic and bringing international attention to the global climate crisis are to “pause” their demonstrations, in a new phase of the effort to achieve their aims.

Over the past week 9,000 police have been deployed, 963 arrests have been made in connection with the demonstrations, and 40 people charged, the Metropolitan Police said.

The protesters, led by the group Extinction Rebellion (XR), are demanding the government declares a climate emergency, that greenhouse gases be brought to net zero by 2025, and want to see the creation of a citizens’ assembly to lead action on the environment.

Farhana Yamin, the group’s political circle coordinator, said Sunday marked “a transition from week one, which focused on actions that were vision-holding but also caused mass disruption across many dimensions (economic, cultural, emotional, social)".

She added: “Week two marks a new phase of rebellion focused on negotiations where the focus will shift to our actual political demands.”

She said: “We want to show that XR is a cohesive long-term, global force, not some flash in the pan.

“We can do that by showing we are disciplined and cannot only start disruptive actions but also end these when needed. We are not a rabble, we are rebels with a cause!

“Being able to ‘pause’ a rebellion shows that we are organised and a long-term political force to be reckoned with.

“This will give XR leverage as we enter into negotiations with those in power to make headway on our three demands.”

On Sunday afternoon activists began dismantling the temporary garden full of trees and a skatepark which had been erected on Waterloo Bridge.

Police later cleared the last protesters from the thoroughfare.

The group said it wanted to negotiate with the mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, and the Metropolitan Police to agree its supporters be allowed to continue protests at Old Palace Yard, in Westminster, and leave other sites.

It said members would commit to not disrupting other areas in exchange for Mr Khan speeding up the implementation of a declaration of climate and ecological emergency and considering setting up a London citizens’ assembly.

The mayor said more than 9,000 police officers had been responding to the protests, which had proved “extremely challenging for our over-stretched and under-resourced police”.

“My message to all the climate change protestors today is clear: let London return to business as usual,” the mayor tweeted.

Many people took issue with his choice of words, saying “business as usual” was the cause of the climate crisis.

The decision to pause the protests camne as Greta Thunberg, the teenage climate activist who instigated the school strikes for climate change movement, prepared to address climate protesters in London.

The teenager gave a speech to members of Extinction Rebellion before planned meetings with senior British politicians during the week.

Metropolitan Police commissioner Cressida Dick said the policing operation had been unlike any she had experienced in nearly four decades of policing.

Ms Dick said: “I have never – I’ve been a police officer for 36 years – I have never known an operation, a single operation, in which over 700 people have been arrested.

“It shows we are determined and we will carry on.”

On Sunday the protesters prepared a “feast” to which the public were invited, as an apology to Londoners for the disruption.

Support free-thinking journalism and attend Independent events

The group said: “We recognise we have caused disruption for many Londoners, so are extending our love through food to all who would like to join us.”

On Saturday afternoon the police managed to clear demonstrators from the junction at Oxford Circus, which had remained closed for six days and had been the site where a pink boat had been parked.

A video of police officers dragging demonstrators along the ground in the operation to remove the boat on Friday prompted concerns about the tactics being used against protesters, who have been peaceful and polite to the police throughout the occupations.

The police used angle-grinders to saw through metal bars attached to the boat.

Additional reporting by PA

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in