LONDON (AP) - Protesters clashed with riot police in central London on Wednesday ahead of the G-20 summit, breaking into the heavily guarded Royal Bank of Scotland and smashing its windows. Nearly two dozen people were arrested in multiple clashes.
Some 4,000 anarchists, anti-capitalists, environmentalists and others clogged the streets of London’s financial district for what demonstrators branded “Financial Fool’s Day.” The protests were called ahead of Thursday’s summit of world leaders, who hope to take concrete steps to resolve the global financial crisis that has lashed nations and workers worldwide.
A battered effigy of a banker in a bowler’s hat hung on a set of traffic lights near the Bank of England. Protesters also tried to storm the Bank of England and pelted police with eggs and fruit.
While most of the protesters were peaceful, a violent mob wearing balaclavas broke into the RBS building and stole keyboards that were used to break windows. Other protesters spray-painted graffiti on the RBS building, writing “class war” and “thieves.”
Riot police batted back protesters carrying banners that read “Abolish Money.”
Protesters focused the Royal Bank of Scotland because it was bailed out by the British government after a series of disastrous deals brought it to the brink of bankruptcy. Still, its former chief executive Fred Goodwin _ aged just 50 _ managed to walk off with a tidy annual pension of 703,000 pounds ($1.2 million) _ just as unemployment in Britain is at 2 million and rising.
“Every job I apply for there’s already 150 people who have also applied,” said protester Nathan Dean, 35, who lost his information technology job three weeks ago. “I have had to sign on to the dole (welfare) for the first time in my life. You end up having to pay your mortgage on your credit card and you fall into debt twice over.”
The protests in London’s financial district _ known as “The City” _ came as Prime Minister Gordon Brown and President Barack Obama held a news conference elsewhere in the British capital.
At least one police officer was injured when a printer and other office equipment was thrown out of the RBS window. Hundreds cheered as a blue office chair was used to smash one of the blacked-out branch windows.
Two men _ one was wearing a suit _ exchanged punches in the financial district before police intervened.
Of the nearly two dozen people arrested, offenses included disorderly behavior, illegally wearing a police uniform, carrying knives and assault. Another person was arrested for drug possession.
“The greed that is driving people is tearing us apart,” said Steve Lamont, 45, flanked by his family and protesters who were banging on bells, playing drums and blowing whistles.
Bankers have been lambasted as being greedy and blamed for the recession that is making jobless ranks soar. Protesters waived banners reading “Banks are evil,” “Eat the bankers,” and “0% interest in others.”
London equity analyst Viktor Gusman, 53, said he understood the protesters’ anger ahead of the G-20 summit but said it didn’t put him off working in finance. Some bankers went to work in casual wear Wednesday for fear they could be targeted.
“This is what I do,” he said, taking a cigarette break a block down from a police barricade in central London. “I’m supporting my wife and mother and I don’t know that it hurts anyone.”
Some financial workers leaned out their office windows, taunting demonstrators and waving 10 pound notes at them.
Police helicopters hovered above as a separate protests _ climate change and anti-war _ started near Trafalgar Square.
“It seems like everything is in a mess,” said protester Steve Johnson, 49, an unemployed construction worker.
One protester dressed as the Easter bunny managed to hop through the police cordon but was stopped before he could reach the Bank of England. Another black-clad demonstrator waved a fake light saber at officers.
More protests are planned in London for the G-20 meeting on Thursday.
Still, the London protests Wednesday were minor compared to those during a World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle in 1999, where some 50,000 people turned out and several hundred people were arrested.