LONDON, April 1 (Reuters) - Police mounted one of Britain’s biggest security operations on Wednesday to protect London’s financial district from protesters who threatened to “storm the banks” in a “Financial Fools’ Day” demonstration.
The windows of shops and restaurants were boarded up for the protests planned to coincide with the G20 summit of world leaders on Thursday. Police leave has been cancelled and thousands of officers have been drafted from across the country.
The first protesters to arrive were outnumbered by film crews and journalists.
“We have been robbed,” said Vinzcente Oliver, 22, from northern England, protesting about how low interest rates have hit savers and pensioners. “I am coming to support the older people who have been working all these years. If we did any stealing we would go to jail.”
There was heavy security outside the Bank of England, the London Stock Exchange and other financial institutions.
Police in bright yellow jackets stopped and searched people outside the central bank, while a helicopter buzzed overhead.
Vans full of police were parked in several side streets.
A Gucci store near the Bank of England was closed and its windows emptied, while a commercial bank branch nearby was shut.
Wooden boards covered the war memorial in front of the Royal Exchange, once the centre of commerce in the City of London and now an upmarket shopping centre. Building sites and roadworks in the financial district were sealed to stop people using building materials as missiles or weapons, police said.
Metal barriers and security guards surrounded the headquarters of Royal Bank of Scotland, a failed bank which has been bailed out by the government. Its former boss Fred Goodwin was the focus of anger in Britain about high pay for bankers.
Environmentalists, anti-war campaigners and other protesters were planning a series of demonstrations to coincide with the meeting of leaders from the top industrialised and developing economies. Some have called it “Financial Fools’ Day” — a reference to April fool’s day which falls on April 1.
Commander Simon O’Brien, of the Metropolitan Police, told reporters: “This will be one of the largest, most challenging and complicated operations we have ever delivered.”
Flyers titled “Storm the Banks” and “G20 Meltdown” have circulated on the Internet.
“We should kick the bankers and their political cronies out of the city and out of power,” one flyer reads, next to a picture of a mannequin wearing a suit being hanged.
Police say they are unaware of specific terrorist threats to the G20 summit. But they are conscious that it was during a G8 meeting in Scotland in 2005 when four British Islamists carried out London’s worst peacetime attack with suicide bombings on underground trains and a bus which killed 52 people. (Additional reporting by Kate Holton) (Writing by Peter Griffiths, editing by Kate Kelland and Elizabeth Piper)