"Occupy London" and gov't in negotiations

A man walks-by the Occupy London camp area outside St Paul's Cathedral in London, Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2011. Anti-capitalist protesters continue to camp on the church's ground after legal actions to evict them were suspended. AP Photo/Sang Tan

LONDON - A lawyer for protesters camped outside London's St. Paul's Cathedral said Wednesday that authorities have offered to let the tent city stay until next year, as the leader of the world's Anglicans backed a so-called Robin Hood tax on financial transactions as one way to alleviate the global economic crisis.

The loosely organized demonstration against capitalist excess, inspired by New York's Occupy Wall Street movement, has wrong-footed both city and church officials since it began last month, defying pleas to leave and the threat of legal action.

Authorities have suspended legal bids to remove the tents. On Wednesday John Cooper, a lawyer for the protesters, said that local government had offered the protesters a deal "to stay on site until the new year," then leave on an agreed date.

"My client is considering this offer," he said on Twitter. Cooper confirmed the offer in an email to The Associated Press.

One of the protesters, Tina Rothery, said the local government had offered not to take any legal action until 2012, but was asking demonstrators to remove some of the scores of tents outside the building.

"We would have to make a slight reduction in tents in order to free up space for the fire brigade," she said.

A spokesman for the local authority, the City of London Corporation, did not immediately respond to a call seeking comment.

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While police and bailiffs have removed protest camps in some cities around the world, the London demonstrators have endured, in part due to their location in front of one of the city's most famous buildings. Their proximity to Christopher Wren's 300-year-old icon has embroiled the church in a conflict between bank-bashing protesters and the city's powerful finance industry.

Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams entered the debate Wednesday, saying "it was time we tried to be more specific" in finding answers to the vague demands represented by the protests.

"The protest at St. Paul's was seen by an unexpectedly large number of people as the expression of a widespread and deep exasperation with the financial establishment that shows no sign at all of diminishing," he wrote in a commentary published in the Financial Times.

"There is still a powerful sense around — fair or not — of a whole society paying for the errors and irresponsibility of bankers; of messages not getting through; of impatience with a return to 'business as usual' represented by still soaring bonuses and little visible change in banking practices."

The transaction tax — often called a "Tobin tax" — was proposed in the 1970s by the late James Tobin, an American economist and Nobel Prize winner. Williams said a low tax rate — 0.05 percent on each transaction — could raise more than $400 billion globally each year.

The European Commission supports the tax, estimating that it could raise euro30 billion ($41 billion) a year, but the British government has firmly opposed it, preferring a direct tax on bank assets.

Williams called for a "robust" public debate "to probe how far the government's preferred option will guarantee the domestic and international development goals central to the 'Robin Hood ' proposals."

Williams wrote approvingly of three proposals offered last week by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace: separation of high-risk investment banking from retail banking; recapitalizing banks with public funds; and a tax on financial transactions.

"If religious leaders and commentators in the U.K. and elsewhere could agree on these three proposals, not as a fixed agenda but as a common ground on which to start serious discussion, the struggles and questionings alike of protesters and clergy at St. Paul's will not have been wasted," Williams wrote.

The British Bankers Association opposes a transaction tax, arguing that unless it was applied worldwide it would harm the financial industry in higher-tax countries.

The Anglican church was caught by surprise when demonstrators against corporate greed and banking excess pitched tents outside St. Paul's on Oct. 15. They had hoped to protest in front of the London Stock Exchange, but were evicted from the private property and moved on to the nearby cathedral.

Since then cathedral officials have appeared uncertain how to respond. They at first welcomed protesters before asking them to leave; closed the building on health and safety grounds then reopened it a week later; and announced legal action to remove the tent city before suspending it and promising dialogue.

The cathedral's dean and a senior priest have both resigned over the mishandled crisis.

The Corporation of London, the local authority for the cathedral and surrounding area, also has suspended plans to evict the protesters, and the campers say they are prepared for a long stay.

Stuart Fraser, the corporation's policy chairman, said officials were meeting protesters for the first time Wednesday, "and we will take things day by day."

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