British police gear up for mass march against cuts

Tens of thousands of people will march against govt`s austerity measures.

Updated: Mar 26, 2011, 13:01 PM IST

London: Thousands of British police officers were preparing for tens of thousands of people to descend on London on Saturday for a huge protest march against the government`s harsh austerity measures.

Trade unions organising the rally said more than 100,000 demonstrators would turn out to oppose cuts introduced by the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition to tackle Britain`s record deficit.

Scotland Yard said around 4,500 officers would be deployed, after several huge student protests against plans to triple university tuition fees turned violent late last year.

After coming to power in May, the coalition announced cuts worth GBP 81 billion (USD 131 billion, EUR 92 billion) over five years in order to slash a record public deficit it blames on the previous Labour government.

Brendan Barber, the head of the Trades Union Congress (TUC), Britain`s trade union movement, said Saturday`s `March for the Alternative` would be the biggest protest it has organised for decades.

"We`re certainly going to see well in excess of 100,000 people, possibly many, many more," Barber said.

"It is to make the case that there is an alternative to this relentless focus on the deficit and austerity that we see from the coalition government," he told BBC radio.

British newspaper reports said between 250,000 and 300,000 were expected, which would make it the largest protest in the capital since around one million people marched against the Iraq war in February 2003.

Barber said the unions would deploy teams of stewards to ensure a peaceful rally because they wanted "nothing to distract" from their message.

The march will start on the banks of the Thames before passing in front of the Houses of Parliament and past Prime Minister David Cameron`s Downing Street residence before ending in a rally in Hyde Park.

The officer in charge of policing the march, Commander Bob Broadhurst, said he hoped for minimal use of the controversial tactic of "kettling" protesters by keeping them confined in small areas.

"If people come with disorder in mind then it`s our job to try to prevent it, then stop it happening," he said.

"We might end up in some form of containment. We would hope we can keep that for as few people as possible and for as little time as possible."

The cuts announced involve most government departments, with the loss of 300,000 public service jobs and pay freezes for civil servants.

Several student demonstrations descended into violence last year, with one culminating in protesters damaging the car carrying heir-to-the-throne Prince Charles and his wife Camilla.

The latest march takes place just days after Finance Minister George Osborne delivered his annual budget on Wednesday. He had already announced the cuts via an emergency budget and spending review last year.

A poll released on Saturday showed that nearly two thirds of the British public said the government should think again over the cuts programme.

The Cuts Index, conducted by ComRes and broadcast on ITV News, showed 64 percent of people agreed that the government should reconsider the austerity measures. Only 20 percent disagreed.

The figure has risen from 45 percent last October. ComRes interviewed 2,005 adults online between March 23 and 25.

Bureau Report