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."
Late in the day, police said a man had been reported to have collapsed near one of the protest camps and responding officers were unable to resuscitate him. He was pronounced dead at a hospital. It was unclear if the man was a protester, and the cause of death was under investigation.
The protests in London's financial district - known as "The City" - began as Prime Minister Gordon Brown and President Barack Obama at Britain's Foreign Ministry elsewhere in the capital.
Bankers have been lambasted as being greedy and blamed for the recession that is making jobless ranks soar. Other banners read "Banks are evil" and "Eat the bankers," and "0 percent interest in others." Some bankers went to work in casual wear Wednesday fearing they could be targeted.
Some bolder financial workers leaned out office windows, taunting the demonstrators and waving 10 pound notes at them. Two men - one wearing a suit - exchanged punches before police intervened.
London's police are using a new tactic in this demonstration - a variation on the police cordon - not to keep the demonstrators out, but to keep them in, reports CBS News correspondent Mark Phillips. But penning them in only seemed to make some of the protestors angrier.
Groups of protesters converged on the central bank, with Tibetan, Palestinian, communist, and anarchist flags poking out from the crowd. Tensions rose as officers refused to let the protesters leave the small plaza in front of the bank.
Protesters pelted police standing guard at the Royal Exchange with paint, eggs, fruit and other projectiles, and a small group of anarchists, skinheads, and masked protesters repeatedly attacked a police cordon flanking the Bank of England.
Some in the crowd urinated against the bank and the message "Built on blood" was scrawled in chalk in front of the building. Police helicopters hovered above.
The G20 leaders may be here to try to fix the world's economy. The demonstrators were here to hold to account the bankers who they believed broke it, reports Phillips.
"As well as anger there is, no question about it, there is a righteous fury against this sculldugery and corruption and sheer theft," said protest organizer Camilla Power.
|Photos: G20 Protests|
Demonstrators converged on London's financial center to protest the opening of the G20 summit. (Photo: AP)
Some bankers Wednesday for fear they could be targeted.
A particularly ferocious balaclava-wearing mob broke into a closed RBS bank branch and stole keyboards, using them to break windows. Other protesters spray-painted graffiti on the RBS building, writing "Class War" and "Thieves." Mounted riot police eventually pushed them back.
Plastic bottles, raw eggs and bags of flour arced from group to group, reports CBS News' Peter Bluff from London. A policeman was hit on the head by a protester with a big stick.
There were surreal moments: Earlier in the morning, police impounded an armored personnel carrier - complete with what looked like a machine-gun turret - near London's Liverpool Street Station as slack-jawed office workers took pictures with their cell phones.
Police arrested 11 people aboard for possessing police uniforms, a Scotland Yard spokeswoman said. She offered no further detail on the incident.
Environmental protesters descended on the area around the European Climate Exchange around noon, and - in a matter of minutes - turned it into a tent city, complete with a pedal-powered sound system; a kitchen cooking baked beans; and compost toilets.
At least one police officer was hurt 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. 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 light-saber toy at officers.
Sporadic protests rumbled on into the evening, as the rowdier elements tangled with riot police, tossing barricades and hurling bottles.
London equity analyst Viktor Gusman, 53, said he understood the protesters' anger but said it didn't put him off working in finance.
"This is what I do," he said, taking a cigarette break a block down from a police barricade. "I'm supporting my wife and mother and I don't know that it hurts anyone."
Anti-war demonstrators descended on the U.S. Embassy bearing signs that put a pacifist twist on Obama's trademark political message. "Quit Iraq and Afghanistan: Yes We Can!" one placard read.
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.
Meanwhile, pro-Tibet demonstrators picketed the London hotel of Chinese President Hu Jintao.