Hundreds of anti-capitalist protesters mingled with bemused bank workers outside London's St. Paul's Cathedral Monday, as welcoming but wary cathedral staff urged demonstrators not to deter tourists wanting to visit the historic building.
Hundreds of anti-capitalist protesters mingled with bemused bank workers outside London’s St. Paul’s Cathedral Monday, as welcoming but wary cathedral staff urged demonstrators not to deter tourists wanting to visit the historic building.
Around 500 demonstrators gathered outside the cathedral over the weekend as part of the global Occupy Wall Street protests. About 200 pitched tents around the cathedral, and have set up a makeshift kitchen, toilets and an information center.
The protesters, a loosely organized group inspired by the month-old movement in New York against corporate wrongdoing, seemed to have settled in for a long stay, but it was unclear how long they would be allowed to remain.
The ground immediately outside the church is owned by St. Paul’s, which permitted the protest camp on the weekend, while the local authority also partly owns a stake in the nearby churchyard, part of London’s medieval heart.
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“It’s quite a complicated, ancient melange of different interests,” said the Rev. Rob Marshall, a spokesman for St. Paul’s.
“The need is to keep access for pilgrims and tourists,” he added.
Dean Graeme Paul Knowles of St. Paul’s said prayer services had continued as normal over the weekend, but the “last few days have not been without various challenges.” In his statement, he added that the protesters have been careful to make sure they do not block people trying to enter the cathedral but said cathedral staff, police and community leaders are “monitoring the situation carefully.”
Protesters had planned to demonstrate outside the nearby London Stock Exchange, but they were turned back and returned to the foot of the cathedral, a London landmark nestled next to the city’s financial district.
Designed by 17th-century architect Christopher Wren, its domed roof still dominates the London skyline. Princess Diana married there in 1981, her long wedding train tumbling over the steps where the protesters have set up their base.
Police tried to move protesters away from St. Paul’s on Sunday but senior priest Giles Fraser said the demonstrators were welcome to stay and asked police officers to move instead.
One protester, Ian Chamberlin said the camp was well organized and peaceful.
“We have shared rules about things like not drinking, not taking drugs. We want to make sure the camp is a safe place to be,” he said. “There’s something symbolic about staying here, near the stock exchange, to pass on our message that the banking system isn’t serving the needs of ordinary people, it is not a democratic force.”
Chamberlin, 27, said he is willing to remain at the camp as long as he is allowed to.
Police said they can’t remove the protesters as long as they have the landowner’s permission, but will arrest anyone who commits a crime. Eight people were arrested over the weekend near St. Paul’s, mainly for public disorder offenses, but police said the protests had been mainly peaceful.
Sit-down protests can be hard to dislodge. An anti-war vigil outside Britain’s Parliament has continued for 10 years, despite repeated legal attempts by local authorities to move it. A handful remain even after legal challenges limited the protesters to the sidewalk, rather than the grass area of Parliament Square.
Thousands of people demonstrated against corporate greed in cities across Europe on Saturday, along with much smaller protests in cities across the U.S.
Rioters in Rome hijacked a peaceful protest, smashing bank and store windows, tearing up sidewalks and torching vehicles. The mayor of Rome says they caused at least euro1 million ($1.4 million) in damage.