Fights in London as thousands join ‘kill the bill’ rallies in Britain


LONDON (Reuters) – Thousands of protesters joined protests across Britain on Saturday against a proposed law that would give police additional powers to stop protests, with some skirmishes following a march in London.

The Police, Crimes, Sentencing and Courts bill aims to toughen the measures officers can take to disperse protests, such as imposing time and noise limits, which activists and activists fear will be used to curb dissent.

“Kill the Bill” marches were held in dozens of towns and cities, supported by large campaign groups such as climate change activists Extinction Rebellion and the Black Lives Matter movement.

Almost all of them died peacefully, but there were minor clashes in central London between protesters and the police following a demonstration that was attended by several thousand people.

The London Metropolitan Police, which deployed large numbers of officers to the capital to end the protest, said there were 26 arrests and 10 officers injured, but none seriously.

“The vast majority of the people who came to central London today did so while respecting social distancing,” said Commander Ade Adelekan. “However, a small minority did not participate despite repeated efforts by agents on the ground.

“This left us with no other option but to move to an execution stage and arrests have been made.”

FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION

The new bill follows action by Extinction Rebellion, which brought parts of London to a standstill in early 2019 and fueled calls by some politicians for stricter powers to be given to the police to prevent excessive disruptions.

Since the proposed law was presented to parliament last month, there have been sporadic demonstrations across the country, and Saturday’s rallies were part of what organizers said was a weekend of national action.

“(I’m here) to defend the rights to free speech and the rights of organizations in our society,” said Jeremy Corbyn, a former leader of the main opposition Labor Party, who was among those taking part in the London protest.

“These demonstrations, 50 of them today, will make a difference,” he told Reuters in front of the Houses of Parliament.

Much of the protest so far has focused on the city of Bristol, in south-west England. Some demonstrations there have turned violent, with officers being bombarded with missiles and burning police vehicles, which Prime Minister Boris Johnson described as “shameful attacks”.

A large crowd gathered again in Bristol on Saturday night, although the demonstration remained peaceful.

Some senior officers have said that the label “kill the bill” was deliberately provocative, as “the bill” is a nickname in Britain for the police.

Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge Written by Michael Holden Editing by Frances Kerry, David Holmes and Gareth Jones

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