‘Occupy’ protests held in European capitals for third day
LONDON — Protesters inspired by the “Occupy Wall Street” movement camped out in European cities for a third day Monday in a campaign that has got the EU and Russia both unexpectedly on the same page.
From London and Frankfurt to Madrid and Amsterdam, hundreds of demonstrators pitched tents following a global day of action on Saturday and vowed to maintain their drive against corporate greed and state cutbacks.
The protests in 80 countries at the weekend, some of which turned violent, were part of a global campaign emulating the “Occupy Wall Street” movement in New York and Spain’s “Indignants” campaign.
More than 200 protesters occupied a square outside St Paul’s Cathedral in the heart of London’s financial district on Monday after police told them to leave but Church officials said they could stay.
“We are going to stay here as long as it takes to get the message through saying: we know what they are doing and we don’t want it. We want a change,” unemployed protester Sophia Samra, 23, told AFP.
With bankers and business people walking around the ragtag group and their tents as the working week began, the scene was far calmer than on Saturday when about 1,000 people scuffled with police.
In Frankfurt, around 200 people set up a makeshift village of some 50 tents outside the European Central Bank, where some 6,000 people had gathered on Saturday.
“We’re staying as long as we have permits to stay,” said Aaron Kraus, 22, of “Occupy Frankfurt.”
In Madrid, about 40 “Indignants”, including an elderly woman and a young mother with a baby, were still occupying the derelict Hotel Madrid. A giant white sheet saying “United for Global Change” hung above the main entrance.
They said they would meet at 6:00 pm (1600 GMT) to discuss their plans, with the most popular option being turning over its rooms to families who have been evicted from their homes.
In the Netherlands, about 40 tents were pitched outside the Amsterdam stock exchange early Monday. Outside the building, protesters unfurled a red carpet on which they burned fake bank notes.
In New York, the birthplace of the movement, hundreds of people were starting their second month camped out in Zuccotti Park near Wall Street and gearing up for another march on Saturday against police brutality.
Dozens were arrested on Saturday when thousands of protestors marched through Times Square. Protests also spread throughout the country, with 175 people arrested in Chicago.
But there was rare agreement between Russia and the European Union on their reaction to the wave of protests.
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who is set to return to the Kremlin next year, warned Monday that Western governments were unable to meet the demands of the demonstrators.
He warned of “the situation which we now see in some countries with developed economies when hundreds of thousands of people come out on the streets… and demand what the governments of these countries in fact are not able to fulfil”.
Russia’s economy has been relatively unscathed and has not seen any similar mass marches, although authorities regularly break up unsanctioned political rallies.
EU president Herman Van Rompuy and European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso said they understood the frustration of the protesters and vowed to make the financial sector share the pain.
“The concerns of those young people on growth and employment are totally legitimate,” Van Rompuy said ahead of a crucial EU summit on Sunday on the euro crisis, but warned that “unpopular” budget cuts must continue.
The most violent of the weekend’s protests were in Rome where hundreds people smashed up banks and hurled rocks at riot police, with 135 people injured.
Tens of thousands turned out at Saturday’s biggest rallies in Lisbon, Madrid and Rome.
US financial analyst Mike Lipper said that the movement appeared lacking in leaders at the moment but that it could still prove a conduit for wider discontent, and lead to social unrest.
“This risk is why it is wise for global investors to keep a wary eye on these crowds,” he wrote in a commentary.