LONDON — Thousands of G20 protesters jammed downtown London on Wednesday, storming and smashing the windows at a Royal Bank of Scotland building. Others tried to storm the Bank of England, pelting police with eggs and fruit and rocking the barricades designed to control them. One police officer was injured after being hit with a large pole during the demonstration and other officers were forced to retreat behind metal barriers as scuffles with the crowd intensitied, Sky News reported. Some protesters spray-painted the side of the RBS building with the phrases “class war” and “thieves.” Others pushed against columns of riot police who swatted them away with batons. Demonstrators shouted “Abolish Money!” and clogged streets in the financial district known as “The City” even as Prime Minister Gordon Brown and President Barack Obama held a news conference elsewhere in the British capital.
Protesters had branded the day “Financial Fool’s Day” ahead of Thursday’s summit of world leaders who are gathering in hopes of resolving the global financial crisis that has lashed nations and workers worldwide.
Royal Bank of Scotland is at the center of protesters’ anger because it had to be bailed out by the British government after a series of disastrous deals brought it to the brink of bankruptcy. The bank is now majority-owned by the British taxpayer.
Despite that, its former chief executive Fred Goodwin — aged just 50 — managed to walk off with a tidy $1 million annual pension for life, while unemployment in Britain now tops 2 million and is heading towards 3 million by the end of this year. Goodwin has been vilified by the British press.
RBS posted a British record loss of 24.1 billion pounds for 2008. The British government has invested 20 billion pounds in propping up the bank.
Helicopters hovered above the protests and some buildings were boarded up. Many banks had extra security and hundreds of police officers lined the streets.
At least eight people were arrested.