Police launched an eviction raid on a Bristol squat yesterday after riots raged for a second time in a suburb that has become a focal point for anger against heavy-handed policing.
More than 30 people were arrested after another night of violence in Stokes Croft, a bohemian suburb of Bristol that is vehemently opposed to the opening of a Tesco store.
Last week, a protest against the supermarket giant turned into running street battles as demonstrators clashed with baton-wielding riot officers. Somerset and Avon Police claimed they had uncovered a petrol bomb plot to attack the store but locals rubbished this and accused officers of using wildly disproportionate force to quell a peaceful anti-Tesco movement.
A broadly peaceful second protest on Thursday evening turned violent shortly after midnight when a small group of masked protesters threw bottles at police officers. Witnesses say police units responded with baton and horse charges, sparking more rioting that continued through the night.
Last week's protests centred on the opening of the new Tesco store, but many local residents of Stokes Croft yesterday voiced concerns that their demonstrations had been hijacked by outsiders keen to fight with the police.
"After last week, tensions were extremely high and there is a lot of anger at the police response," said Nick Martin, owner of the Left Bank Bar. "But it seemed there were many young people last night who came from outside the area to throw things at the police and cause trouble."
Luke Champion, a 32-year-old NHS worker beaten by police last week, said: "I saw a horrible side of the police last Thursday but this time around I think they were pretty restrained, considering how a small group of masked people were determined to cause violence. It's really sad."
Somerset and Avon Police yesterday defended its actions, saying officers had to respond after being pelted with bottles, rocks and other missiles by masked demonstrators who peeled away from the main crowd and headed to the centre of the city.
"We took swift and robust action to try to prevent further violence and damage to property," said Assistant Chief Constable Rod Hansen. "I am satisfied that our tactics were appropriate and proportionate... the officers involved acted professionally and with great restraint given the threat and personal danger they faced."
But some of those present said fired-up riot officers used baton charges against peaceful demonstrators. "I was hit a number of times across the leg and had nothing to do with violence," said a 31-year-old man who asked not to be named. "Sure some were spoiling for a fight, but so were the police. They were like animals."
Owen Pettinger, a 28-year-old local resident who works in marketing, said: "There were some troublemakers but the whole police response was so heavy handed. Anyone in their way, whoever you were, was cleared. Couldn't they have used snatch squads just to go after the rioters?"
At one point, residents trying to stop the violence sat down between police and lines of youths who had begun throwing bottles at officers. Claire Milne, a campaigner from No to Tesco in Stokes Croft, said: "We are devastated with what has happened since the arrival of Tesco and we will work hard to try and find ways to ensure that our community returns to its vibrant self."
Riot officers returned to the area at 9.30 yesterday morning to evict people from Telepathic Heights, a three-storey squat that has become a focal point of the protests. As police moved in a few squatters took to the roof and threw tiles at the officers below. It took more than four hours for the last holdouts to be brought down and arrested.
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