UK police wounded in anti-capitalist rallies

November 6, 2021 - 18:27

TEHRAN - Anti-establishment protesters have poured their anger onto the streets of the British capital during a traditional annual event marking bonfire night. The unrest in London included clashes and street battles with police that left at least eight officers needing medical treatment for injuries they sustained.

Protesters had initially gathered in Central London’s iconic Trafalgar Square at the now annual demonstration dubbed the Million Mask March, which began in 2012. The anti-capitalist event coincides with Guy Fawkes celebrations in the UK, with many of the protesters wearing masks resembling the face of the man behind the gunpowder plot to blow up the British parliament.

Demonstrators at this year's Guy Fawkes-inspired Million Mask March through London expressed even more anger and frustration as it came on the backdrop of Covid-19 lockdowns with many descending on the city to demand a revolution. Other groups of protesters joined arms and unrest was reported at around three popular sites in Central London; Parliament Square, Trafalgar Square, and Oxford Circus. 

Some were later seen being frog-marched away by police in riot gear, other clips have shown the demonstrators launching projectiles towards police lines, while riot gear officers were forced to set up barricades at various locations across the capital to contain the demonstrations. 

One participant, who only gave his name as Richard told British media that the protest, which has taken place in early November for several years now, was a continuation of the anti-Covid marches against government lockdowns and restrictions. Last year, police arrested almost 200 people during the rally for breaching lockdown restrictions. Many of the members of the movement, known as the Million Mask March, did hold signs protesting against coronavirus restrictions.

The Million Mask March, which is sometimes referred to as “Operation Vendetta” has also been vocal recently against police violence. However, over the years the protest is and has always been more commonly and closely affiliated with the international activist group “Anonymous” which strongly campaigns against government corruption, capitalist greed, and the decline of civil liberties. “Anonymous” is an international group of activists, some of whom are reported to be hackers, devoted to the ideals of personal freedom and a society free of centralized power in the west. 

Over the years, the movement of activists have been linked to multiple high-profile incidents, including alleged cyber-attacks on governments, major corporations, and financial institutions.

Many of the protestors at the Million Mask March are known for wearing full-face Guy Fawkes masks fashioned from the novel “V for Vendetta.” It is an anti-government and anti-establishment protest which was first held in 2012 and has been taking place every year since then in multiple cities across the world, with the protests in London and Washington D.C. being the most prominent. Supporters of the protesters see the movement as one fighting for freedom, the right to assemble, and free speech. 

The Million Mask March, which is sometimes referred to as “Operation Vendetta” has also been vocal recently against police violence. 

Other images from the nighttime demonstrations showed at least one flag of Palestine being waved as well as posters of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. Palestinian flags are often spotted at protests against controversial government policies or anti-war marches. 

Some of those demonstrating were seen hurling fireworks at officers; while footage posted on social media showed protesters at nearby Parliament Square being pushed back by a line of officers wearing protective gear.

Traditionally an effigy of Guy Fawkes himself is paraded, this time an effigy of Prime Minister Boris Johnson was burned instead. A crowd gathered to watch the burning of the effigy with a chant heard of “burn, Boris, burn.”

Meanwhile, the Metropolitan police had been bracing for a major operation to try and contain the rallies and avoid scenes of unprecedented wide-scale violence that have been witnessed previously. It noted a dozen people have been arrested across London saying “those arrests were for a variety of offenses. Eight of our officers were injured. This is unacceptable.” 

Scotland Yard also said a section 35 dispersal order was put in place for “a number of areas” across Westminster, including Parliament Square. The force said: “Officers are engaging with those in Parliament Square and will be advising them of this order.” Under the section 35, dispersal orders police enjoy the power to order crowds to leave a specific location.

In a separate statement on social media, the Metropolitan police said a crowd in Parliament Square had been “dangerously lighting fireworks and rockets”, adding “we have moved into the crowd to remove any fireworks and prevent people [from] coming to harm.”

Ahead of the demonstration, the met said "as a precaution, officers will be equipped with specialist public order uniforms and a number of protective barriers have been set up outside a number of locations in London.” A Met spokesperson said mounted police divisions and dog units had also been called in to support efforts to prevent the march from descending into a full-blown riot. 

“This policing plan has been developed following a continual review and thorough assessment of intelligence which suggests some groups are intent on causing disorder or targeting police officers with violence... as a precaution, officers will be equipped with specialist public order uniforms and a number of protective barriers have been set up outside a number of locations in London”

“Different units across the Met will also support today’s policing plan, including our public order teams, mounted branch, police dogs, and the National Police Air Service.” 

A variety of groups and organizations generally participate in the event. These include an annual trade union march, a separate march organized by students demanding free education, and the “Anonymous” movement. The demonstrations typically turn to violence as the rallies are met with a heavy police presence. 

Background

Every year people gather around in early November to celebrate Bonfire Night across the UK. There are firework displays in public parks across the country and people light bonfires with an effigy to represent historical figure Guy Fawkes and his companions who tried to blow up the British parliament. 

The celebrations each year refers to an event which could have changed the course of British history almost 400 years ago. In 1605, a group of Roman Catholic activists arranged their Gunpowder Plot, but it failed. At the time, King James I ruled over a Protestant England and the activists wanted the freedom to practice their religion.

Guy Fawkes, an explosives expert, along with the rest of the sleeper cell plotted to assassinate King James and blow up the Palace of Westminster during the state opening of Parliament. Fawkes smuggled 36 barrels under the House of Lords into a cellar. However, he was caught and tortured to give up the names of his companions and then executed. 

As a result of the failed plot, the King celebrated his survival by making the people of England have a bonfire on the night of 5 November.

In the centuries that followed countries belonging to the former British Empire also celebrated the failure to blow up the UK Parliament, over years people have typically forgotten the historical context and used the occasion as an excuse to hold a party with a fireworks display. 

However, analysts say the fact that activists have chosen this occasion, a failure to blow up what is supposedly the heart of UK democracy, the country’s parliament, to protest against the establishment itself is a sign of growing anger and frustration at domestic and foreign policies of the British government.

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