LONDON — Chanting G-20 protesters clashed with riot police in central London on Wednesday, overwhelming police lines, vandalizing the Bank of England and smashing windows at the Royal Bank of Scotland. An effigy of a banker was set ablaze, drawing cheers.
More than 30 people were arrested after some 4,000 anarchists, anti-capitalists, environmentalists and others clogged London's financial district for what demonstrators branded "Financial Fool's Day." The protests were called ahead of Thursday's Group of 20 summit of world leaders, who hope to take concrete steps to resolve the global financial crisis that has lashed nations and workers worldwide.
Late in the day, police said a man had been reported to have collapsed near one of the protest camps and responding officers were unable to resuscitate him. He was pronounced dead at a hospital. It was unclear if the man was a protester, and the cause of death was under investigation.
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The protests in London's financial district — known as "The City" — began as Prime Minister Gordon Brown and President Barack Obama held a news conference at Britain's Foreign Ministry elsewhere in the capital.
A battered effigy of a banker in a bowler's hat hung on a traffic light near the Bank of England as protesters waved signs saying: "Resistance is Fertile," and "Make Love not Leverage."
Bankers have been lambasted as being greedy and blamed for the recession that is making jobless ranks soar. Other banners read "Banks are evil" and "Eat the bankers," and "0 percent interest in others." Some bankers went to work in casual wear Wednesday fearing they could be targeted.
Some bolder financial workers leaned out office windows, taunting the demonstrators and waving 10 pound notes at them. Two men — one wearing a suit — exchanged punches before police intervened.
Groups of protesters converged on the central bank, with Tibetan, Palestinian, communist, and anarchist flags poking out from the crowd. Tensions rose as officers refused to let the protesters leave the small plaza in front of the bank.
Protesters pelted police standing guard at the Royal Exchange with paint, eggs, fruit and other projectiles, and a small group of anarchists, skinheads, and masked protesters repeatedly attacked a police cordon flanking the Bank of England.
Some in the crowd urinated against the bank and the message "Built on blood" was scrawled in chalk in front of the building. Police helicopters hovered above.
A particularly ferocious balaclava-wearing mob broke into a closed RBS bank branch and stole keyboards, using them to break windows. Other protesters spray-painted graffiti on the RBS building, writing "Class War" and "Thieves." Mounted riot police eventually pushed them back.
RBS has been the focus of particular anger because it was bailed out by the British government after a series of disastrous deals brought it to the brink of bankruptcy. Still, its former chief executive Fred Goodwin — age 50 — managed to walk off with an annual pension of 703,000 pounds ($1.2 million) even as unemployment in Britain rises from some 2 million.
"Every job I apply for there's already 150 people who have also applied," said protester Nathan Dean, 35, who lost his information technology job three weeks ago. "I have had to sign on to the dole (welfare) for the first time in my life. You end up having to pay your mortgage on your credit card and you fall into debt twice over."
There were surreal moments: Earlier in the morning, police impounded an armored personnel carrier — complete with what looked like a machine-gun turret — near London's Liverpool Street Station as slack-jawed office workers took pictures with their cell phones.
Police arrested 11 people aboard for possessing police uniforms, a Scotland Yard spokeswoman said. She offered no further detail on the incident.
Environmental protesters descended on the area around the European Climate Exchange around noon, and — in a matter of minutes — turned it into a tent city, complete with a pedal-powered sound system; a kitchen cooking baked beans; and compost toilets.
At least one police officer was hurt when a printer and other office equipment was thrown out of the RBS window. Hundreds cheered as a blue office chair was used to smash one of the blacked-out branch windows. One protester dressed as the Easter bunny managed to hop through the police cordon but was stopped before he could reach the Bank of England. Another black-clad demonstrator waved a light-saber toy at officers.
Sporadic protests rumbled on into the evening, as the rowdier elements tangled with riot police, tossing barricades and hurling bottles.
London equity analyst Viktor Gusman, 53, said he understood the protesters' anger but said it didn't put him off working in finance.
"This is what I do," he said, taking a cigarette break a block down from a police barricade. "I'm supporting my wife and mother and I don't know that it hurts anyone."
Anti-war demonstrators descended on the U.S. Embassy bearing signs that put a pacifist twist on Obama's trademark political message. "Quit Iraq and Afghanistan: Yes We Can!" one placard read.
Meanwhile, pro-Tibet demonstrators picketed the London hotel of Chinese President Hu Jintao.