Thousands descend on central London as anti-Government protests kick off

<p>Thousands of protesters gathered in the capital on Saturday </p>

Thousands of protesters gathered in the capital on Saturday

AFP via Getty Images

Demonstrators descended on central London on Saturday afternoon as thousands of people marched in protest against the Government.

Drums, whistling and chanting echoed through the streets, with people young and old taking part.

One speaker stood on a plinth near Embankment Station and told crowds: “We are here to take our freedom back.”

The event was spearheaded by campaign group the People’s Assembly, which called on people to gather together for a “national demonstration” against Boris Johnson and his administration.

By midday, hoards of people had gathered in the heart of the capital to join in the action.

Footage shared on social media showed huge crowds building as they “poured into Hyde Park”:

Marches are set to take place across Westminster, and areas of Lambeth and Southwark over the course of the weekend.

There was a party atmosphere as the crowds headed down the Embankment past New Scotland Yard on Saturday afternoon, hurling tennis balls in their dozens over the fence into the grounds of Parliament.

Asked why protesters were throwing them, one man, who did not wish to be named, said: “They have little messages on them. Most of them are not very nice.”

Demonstrators then packed the streets outside Downing Street, setting off flares and chanting “shame on you” as they pointed towards Number 10.

Police officers dodged the furry yellow missiles AFP via Getty Images

In a statement on its website, the People’s Assembly said the Government had “made it clear it wants working people to pay for the coronavirus crisis,” adding: “There is visceral anger over the multitude of government failures during the pandemic.”

It also urged the public to speak out against the “draconian ‘Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill”, which is due to reach its final reading stage this month.

“This bill is an affront to democracy, an assault on our rights to protest and an attempt to silence dissent and opposition to the government,” the group’ declared.

“The Tories want to take away our rights to demonstrate for our rights! We cannot let that happen.”

However, numerous Twitter users have hit out at the gathering, condemning it as another elaborate display from anti-lockdown mobs:

Their criticism was, inevitably, fuelled by the presence of the likes of notorious lockdown sceptic Laurence Fox

The protests have gone ahead despite the arrest of 12 people as part of a police crackdown on demonstrators.

The Metropolitan Police carried out raids at three locations in the capital on Friday, seizing items including bamboo structures, lock-on equipment and other items “which could be used to cause criminal damage and obstructions”.

And the force has said that due to the numbers attending, people living or travelling in the area should expect disruption and said “road closures will be in place to keep Londoners safe”.

The Met said it has been in contact with organisers and would continue to engage with them, but said it had “zero tolerance for disorder or criminality”.

Extinction Rebellion reported on its website that four members were arrested at one of its warehouses in east London.

It is claimed the women had been “creating art” for the upcoming Free the Press march on Sunday in Parliament Square.

All those arrested are currently in police custody.

Chief Inspector Joe Stokoe, from the Met’s Public Order Command, said: “Our policing plan will be proportionate with officers engaging with those protesting to ensure their gathering is lawful, safe and doesn’t disrupt those Londoners who are out and enjoying their weekend.

“We will not tolerate disruptive or unruly behaviour, or any action by groups to intimidate or threaten members of the public, media or police officers.

“We know certain protest groups are specifically intending to disrupt businesses or potentially cause criminal damage to property. This type of behaviour is unacceptable.”

Four protesters who locked themselves together outside an arms fair in September 2017 had their convictions overturned by the Supreme Court on Friday in what has been heralded as a victory for the right to protest.

During the ruling, judges Lord Hamblen and Lord Stephens said: “There should be a certain degree of tolerance to disruption to ordinary life, including disruption of traffic, caused by the exercise of the right to freedom of expression or freedom of peaceful assembly.”

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