Extinction Rebellion’s co-founder said the group could escalate its actions if its demands were not met. (AP: Vudi Xhymshiti)
London police are calling in extra help and cancelling officers’ holidays as they deal with rolling climate change protests that have caused transport headaches across the British capital.
- Expected demonstrations could disrupt travel at Heathrow Airport on one of its busiest days
- Police said protesters at Heathrow could expect “a robust response”
- Protests have so far cost London businesses 12 million pounds and could continue for weeks
More than 500 people have been arrested this week and 10 charged so far, police said.
Extinction Rebellion also staged a semi-nude protest in parliament earlier this month.
The group claims it is planning a Good Friday protest at London’s Heathrow Airport, opening a new front in its demonstrations that could cause problems for those travelling over the Easter break.
The Metropolitan Police cancelled some officers’ leave and called in assistance from other forces to deal with the protests, which the force said were causing “unacceptable” disruption.
Extinction Rebellion has called for non-violent civil disobedience to push the British government to reduce net greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2025 and to stop what it says is a global climate crisis.
“If we don’t do something now it’s going to have a catastrophic effect,” said 23-year-old media student Fflur Harman, who travelled from central England and spent the night at one central London protest site.
A significant number of police are expected to meet protesters at the planned Heathrow Airport demonstrations. (AP: Frank Augstein)
Possible delays at airport on busy travel day
Heathrow said it was working with authorities to address any threat on one of the busiest travel days of the year.
“While we respect the right to peaceful protest and agree with the need to act on climate change, we don’t agree that passengers should have their well-earned Easter break holiday plans with family and friends disrupted,” the airport said.
The Metropolitan Police said it had “strong plans” to deploy a “significant number” of officers to Heathrow and take “firm action” if needed.
Interior minister Sajid Javid said he wanted police to “take a firm stance and use the full force of the law”.
However, police said they were limited in the action they could take as the protests were disruptive, rather than violent.
“The question really is can we arrest our way out of this issue, given there are several thousand people in London who are willing to be arrested,” Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner Nick Ephgrave said.
He said protesters could “expect a robust police response”.
“We are determined to keep the airport operating,” he said.
Protests likely to continue for weeks
Extinction Rebellion has ratcheted up its protests in recent weeks, blocking major sites around London like Marble Arch, Oxford Circus and Waterloo Bridge and smashing a door at the Shell building.
In London’s east, a man and a woman stood on the roof of a train and held a banner that said: “Climate Emergency. Act Now.”
Some passengers shouted at the pair to get off whilst police headed for the scene. Another activist glued himself to one of the trains.
So far, the protests are estimated to have cost more than 12 million pounds to businesses in London’s West End, with some seeing a 25 per cent drop in sales.
Extinction Rebellion co-founder Gail Bradbrook said people were continuing to join the movement.
“It’s certainly an option that tactics will be escalated if our demands are not met,” she said.
Police said they expected the demonstrations to continue for the next few weeks.
The pace of reduction in emissions called for by Extinction Rebellion is far faster than that urged by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which last year recommended they be cut to zero on a global basis by 2050.
Britain has lowered net emissions by 42 per cent since 1990, and currently aims to cut emissions by 80 percent by 2050. Government advisors will suggest new targets next month.