POLICE have finally got tough on Extinction Rebellion eco-warriors as they arrested 135 protesters by lunchtime today – rather than dancing and skateboarding with them.
Officers came under fire in April when they were filmed larking around with activists on Waterloo Bridge who had caused travel misery to ordinary Londoners.
But cops today took a tough stance as activists began their two week-campaign to block streets and bridges in the capital.
Just after 9am today Lambeth Bridge was closed down by protesters and they also shut off Westminster bridge.
Activists also created roadblocks on Victoria Street, Whitehall, Trafalgar Square and the Mall.
Early this morning specialist officers cut some of the protesters out of a car parked outside the Ministry of Defence and were seen marching away activists.
Angry Londoners today blasted the activists for targeting the capital again, despite the UK cutting carbon emissions faster than any other G7 nation.
Michael Coleman, from South London, said: “Extinction Rebellion are causing needless aggravation in London today. Crazy…they’ve got nothing better to do than frustrate people and cause needless chaos”.
Around 30,000 activists are expected to try and grind the city over the next fortnight in a move that will stop people getting to work, making hospital appointments and hit businesses.
Earlier today Deputy Assistant Commissioner Laurence Taylor, who is the police chief in charge of the Extinction Rebellion protests, had said officers will deal with activists breaking the law “robustly”.
One of the 135 arrested included 81-year-old Quaker Sarah Lasenby, a retired social worker from Oxford.
She said: “I was so relieved to have something I could do about the ghastly state we have got our planet in”.
One tearful activist called Rowan compared the protesters to Gandhi and Martin Luther King, telling LBC radio: “I’m feeling quite moved at the moment because I’ve just been watching people being taken away.
“It’s very moving seeing people giving their freedom and giving so much of their lives. Some of these people have been doing this for years, trying to raise the warning about climate change.
“I really feel that this is their last chance to try to turn things around. If we don’t turn it around this time, that’s it. That’s it for the people in the future.
“I feel the legacy we’ve inherited from the people who have done non-violence civil disobedience in the past – people like Martin Luther King and Gandhi.
“They all fought for freedom and human rights and for the right for life on earth. They’ve handed the torch on to us.”
A 25-year-old teacher from London who took the week off to join the protests said: “The plan is to shut down the whole of London.
“The issue of climate change is an issue for everyone, and it’s clear we can’t leave it to the politicians.
“I booked the week off work for this. The school kids are out protesting too. Everyone is.”
It’s forecast to pour with rain this afternoon in the capital.
However commuters vented their fury at the protesters for the disruption caused.
Tom Stone said: “Police resources will have to deal with this and not all responding officers will be available to deal with real crimes or emergencies. I think they really need to rethink their strategy, it’s appalling”.
Another tweeted: “Causing disruption in London and major cities worldwide is clearly not the correct approach to adopt in order to get one’s message across. If anything, it’s just a real nuisance, at the expense of the taxpayer”.
Over the next fortnight protesters will also target London City Airport, which they will attempt to hold for three days.
The group plans to bring London to a standstill and are willing to shut down the heart of the capital until their demands for action on climate change are met.
Those behind the protest have now admitted their action could have an impact on St Thomas’s hospital, which sits on the opposite bank of the Thames from the Houses of Parliament.
When asked whether they were worried about disruption at the hospital, activist Savannah Lovelock said that they were “really sorry…but we are running out of time”.
They have said that they will stand aside to allow ambulances responding to emergencies to pass.
In July one man missed his father’s dying moments because Extinction Rebellion had blocked roads in the city.
The monarch could also be affected as the Queen’s Speech takes place on October 14 and is on a route which could have its access blocked.
A government spokesman said: “People have the right to protest peacefully but they must do so within the law.
“It is essential that people can continue to go about their business, going to and from work, visiting families, and have access to vital public services, including emergency services and schools.
“Rights to peaceful protest does not extend to unlawful activity.
“The government expects police to take a firm stance against protesters who significantly disrupt the lives of others and will use the full force of the law.”
More than a thousand people attended an “opening ceremony” at Marble Arch last night, featuring meditation and dancing as “inspiration” prior to the protests.
Groups of artists held a procession around Marble Arch as the protesters were told to “surround” the upcoming demonstrations with love.
Extinction Rebellion spokesperson Zoe Jones, 24, said: “We’re here to pressure the Government into action because we can’t wait any longer.
“The next two weeks will involve marches and family friendly events, there’ll be some spicier actions as well and some will be arrestable.
“We’ve had 4,000 rebels sign up and say they are willing to be arrested – which is a huge increase on the number arrested in April of 1,000.
“The public perception of XR is that we’re disrupting ordinary people’s lives by blocking roads and that’s why this time we’re taking our protests to the seat of power and taking it to Westminster.
“We are on the public’s side and we are ordinary people who are extremely concerned.”
Grace Maddrell, 14, told PA: “I’m here today because I am angry that no one is doing anything to save my future.”
Major events are also taking place around the world in Australia, in Europe – in Berlin, Madrid, Amsterdam – and in the US in New York and Washington DC.
Extinction Rebellion is calling on the Government declare a climate and ecological emergency, act immediately to halt wildlife loss and reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2025.
Earlier in the year, Parliament declared a climate and environment emergency and the Government has passed a law to cut emissions to net zero by 2050, far later than the activists are demanding.
The group staged 11 days of protests in London in April that disrupted public transport and roads.
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On Thursday Extinction Rebellion activists used a fire engine to hose red liquid at the Treasury to draw attention to what they said was the government’s failure to avert climate disaster.
Last week the Met warned that the protests were taking officers away from other vital roles in the capital including tackling knife crime and domestic violence.
More resources have been used policing climate change protest than focusing on terror, it was said.