LONDON (Reuters) - British police with batons scuffled with groups of climate change protesters on Sunday near the headquarters of the operator of Heathrow airport.
The clashes in a field close to airport operator BAA’s building came after largely peaceful marches from a camp where campaigners, who want to draw attention to the impact of aviation on global warming, have been massing all week.
BAA said the airport was operating normally and there was no disruption to passengers.
About 200 marchers made it to the BAA car park where there was a strong police presence. Some protesters pitched tents and were planning to stay overnight. Police chased another group into fields, hitting some with truncheons, before ringing them.
Police said they had made four arrests, one for assaulting a police officer, taking the total number of campaigners detained over the course of the week to 49.
The protesters want Heathrow’s expansion plans dropped and the growth of air travel halted. The protest comes at the height of the holiday season at the world’s busiest international airport that handles nearly 70 million passengers a year.
Paul Morozzo, a campaigner at the BAA headquarters, said the 24 hour “direct action” would continue through Monday.
“There are lots of different plans. Some are planning to stay here, others want to do other things,” he said.
Scientists say air transport contributes to global warming, and the carbon dioxide gas and water vapor emitted by aircraft are four times more potent at high altitude than at sea level.
The British government says it is committed to tackling climate change and plans to set legally binding targets for cutting CO2 emissions -- but it also backs an expansion of air travel, which is set to double in the next 25 years.
Earlier, marchers with carnival-style floats and speakers adorned with flowers blaring music left the camp with a banner saying: “We are armed ... only with peer-reviewed science.”
The climate change activists have been camped out for a week near Heathrow, west of London. Organisers estimated there were 1,000-1,200 protesters taking part in the protests.
“We believe in unlawful protest when it is peaceful and justified,” one of the organisers, Leila Harris, told reporters.
Over the past week protesters broke into an Israeli-owned food import warehouse near Heathrow, and super-glued their hands to doors at the Department for Transport in London.
Heathrow’s operator, Spanish-owned BAA, expressed concern that chaos could ensue, but police said they planned to use up to 1,800 officers and were confident they could keep control.
The campaigners insisted that their quarrel was with the aviation industry, not with passengers. They said they would not do anything to endanger passengers, such as blocking runways.