By Kevin Sullivan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 1, 2009 10:49 AM
LONDON, April 1 -- As President Obama was holding one-on-one meetings Wednesday with the leaders of Russia and China, thousands of protesters marched in the streets of London, and there were several violent clashes with police.
A mob of protesters, many of them with their faces hidden by bandanas, smashed windows at a Royal Bank of Scotland building in the City, as London's financial district is known. RBS has been one of the highest-profile banks hit by the current economic crisis and was essentially nationalized to keep it from failure, at a cost of billions of dollars to British taxpayers.
Protesters scrawled "Thieves" on the side of the building, which they entered through the broken windows. They threw a printer and other office equipment into the street. Several intruders made it to the building's roof.
Hundreds of protesters charged police, who hit back with batons. Police estimated that at least 4,000 demonstrators were in the area, which also includes the headquarters of the Bank of England.
Earlier in the day, 11 people were arrested after being stopped in an armored personnel carrier in the financial district. The vehicle, which looked like those commonly seen on the streets of Baghdad or Basra, was painted blue with the word "Riot" stenciled on the front.
News photos showed at least one of the men arrested wearing a riot police officer's helmet. It was not immediately clear how such a vehicle managed to drive into central London on a day when security levels are unprecedented.
While some protesters were focused on the global economic crisis, others in the city were concerned with the war in Iraq, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and other causes.
Several hundred more demonstrators gathered outside the U.S. Embassy in Grosvenor Square in Mayfair for an antiwar march leading to a rally in Trafalgar Square.
"The message is very simple -- we want troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan, an end to the siege of Gaza, stop the arming of Israel, and the creation of jobs, not bombs," Lindsey German of the Stop the War Coalition told reporters.
"We are in the middle of a terrible economic crisis, so why are we spending money on nuclear weapons and on wars in countries where we have no right to be?" she said.
British police have a massive presence of officers on the streets to protect against the protests, several of which take their name from April Fools' Day. The protests around the financial district were billed as a "Financial Fools Day" protest and environmental campaigners also planned a "Fossil Fools Day" demonstration near the ExCeL center, where the G-20 meetings are taking place.
Banks have taken special precautions to protect their employees amid fears that bankers could be targeted by protesters.
One banker who works on Canary Wharf, a key financial hub in London, said most banks and financial firms had advised their employees to "dress down" on Wednesday and Thursday, to look less like bankers. He said they were told not to wear suits to work and not to wear company ID badges or carry bags or anything else with a company logo.
He said bankers had been advised not to invite clients in for meetings Wednesday and Thursday. Many employees simply stayed home, and several shops and restaurants in the financial district remained closed. Other businesses, such as the Ritz Hotel not far from Buckingham Palace, have boarded up windows as a precaution.
The London Chamber of Commerce estimates disruption to the British capital could cost more than $7 million a day. It advised people to "consider wearing more casual clothing" and to "consider staggering staff arrival and departures."
Scotland Yard said security for the G-20 summit would cost more than $10 million.