Protesters scuffle with police at London anti-lockdown demo

LONDON (Reuters) - Protesters at a central London anti-lockdown rally scuffled with police officers on Saturday who were trying to break up the demonstration because of a lack of social distancing.

Police said nine officers had been injured and 16 people arrested for offences including assaulting an officer and violent disorder, in the second weekend of trouble at a demonstration against pandemic restrictions.

Chanting “Freedom” and carrying banners saying “We Do Not Consent” and “COVID 1984”, thousands of people had crammed into Trafalgar Square to protest. Several told broadcasters they believed the pandemic was a hoax created by governments to control people.

The police ordered the protest to disperse because demonstrators had failed to socially distance or wear masks, meaning it was no longer exempt from national rules that limit gatherings to six people.

Video footage showed officers briefly using batons to drive the protesters back.

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“I am very frustrated to see that nine officers were injured during clashes with a small minority of protesters,” said Commander Ade Adelekan.

“This is especially saddening in light of the injuries sustained by officers last weekend. We will be supporting those officers who were injured and I wish them a very speedy recovery.”

Saturday’s demonstration followed a similar event last weekend when 32 people were arrested.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson tightened COVID-19 restrictions this week, telling people to work from home if possible and ordering pubs and restaurants to close early after cases started to rise again.

The United Kingdom recorded 6,042 new cases of COVID-19, official figures showed on Saturday, and 34 new deaths among those who tested positive for the virus within 28 days.

Reporting by Kate Holton; Editing by Helen Popper and Christina Fincher