LONDON (Reuters) - Anti-capitalist protesters defied a deadline to remove their tents from outside St Paul’s Cathedral on Thursday, heralding a new phase in their legal stand-off with officials in London’s financial district.
Dozens of protesters held a minute’s silence before cheering and wiggling their fingers in the air in their trademark gesture as the bells of the 17th-century cathedral struck 6 p.m., the deadline by which authorities had told them to pack their bags.
The City of London Corporation, which owns much of the land on which the 200 tents were pitched a month ago, will now begin legal proceedings in the High Court.
The corporation has followed different methods from New York authorities which used riot police to kick out Occupy Wall Street demonstrators in a surprise pre-dawn raid on Tuesday.
“‘Occupy’ is an idea and you cannot evict an idea,” London organizer Ronan McNern said.
The corporation had suspended its legal proceedings two weeks ago but on Wednesday officials attached legal notices to the tents, giving their occupants 24 hours to end a demonstration that has shaken the Church of England, the Anglican mother Church, and embarrassed senior politicians.
City officials will start legal proceedings in the High Court in the next few days, a corporation source told Reuters.
Lawyer John Cooper, representing the demonstrators, said he would work to ensure his clients’ interests were “fearlessly defended.”
The cathedral is one of London’s most popular tourist attractions. It was the venue of the 1981 wedding of Princess Diana and Prince Charles and the funeral of World War Two leader Winston Churchill in 1965.
The cathedral, which unwittingly found itself at the center of the dispute after police blocked the demonstrators’ attempt to camp outside their intended target, the nearby London Stock Exchange, will continue to keep its legal procedures on hold.
After losing two senior clerics over its handling of the issue, it has embarked on a policy of negotiation with the protesters, even though it faces disruption in the run-up to Christmas.
“We understand the Church is in a difficult position,” a corporation spokesman said. “What they do with their own land is an issue for them. We are looking after the public highway.”
Writing and additional reporting by Avril Ormsby; editing by David Stamp