NEW: Police confirm 20 people arrested during raid
Police, bailiffs dismantle camp outside St. Paul's Cathedral
The raid follows a failed appeal against an eviction order
City of London expresses regret "that it has come to this"
Hundreds of police in riot gear staged an early morning raid Tuesday to clear Occupy protesters from a campsite outside London’s St Paul’s Cathedral, activists said.
Just after midnight local time (GMT) officers accompanied by bailiffs converged on the camp, which was home to around 70 activists, Occupy London organizers told CNN.
Witness Ronan McNern said police formed a number of cordons to stop protesters and their supporters from entering the camp while the tents were being dismantled.
“The tents are being taken and put in garbage trucks and you can hear them being crushed which is horrible,” he said. Images from the scene showed workmen clearing the site of debris while police in riot gear looked on.
Another witness, who described himself as an Occupy supporter, said the police had been met with “peaceful resistance.”
City of London police later confirmed that the operation was “largely peaceful.” Twenty people were arrested after a “small minority” of people obstructed the work of the bailiffs, police said.
Protesters have been camping on the steps of St Paul’s Cathedral since October 15 last year as part of the worldwide Occupy movement. Activists have been rallying against corporate greed and economic inequality, calling for a fairer society for all.
One of the organizers of Occupy London, Spyro Van Leemnen told CNN the protesters anticipated the raid after losing an appeal on February 22 against an eviction notice filed by the City of London Corporation, the body that runs London’s financial district.
“We had some information it would be tonight or tomorrow,” he said, adding that the group used social media to urge supporters to join them when they realized the raid was imminent.
He said before they lost the appeal around 150 tents had crowded the site, but by Tuesday morning’s raid all but 70 people had decided to leave.
“The day after our appeals were rejected we removed the communal tents, for example the kitchen, the tent city university, the information tent, so what was left were residential tents,” Van Leemnen said.
“Many of the people who have decided to stay, they have nowhere else to go,” he said. “Some of them can just go back to their homes and their comforts, but some of those people are homeless so this is obviously something that the city of London has to take into account.”
Van Leemnen said that after the failed appeal, members held a General Assembly to decide their next move. While there was disagreement as to whether they should leave the London site, he said, all agreed that the movement should continue.
“This is not the end of Occupy London and there have been discussions already about the future of the movement,” Van Leemnen said, adding that plans were underway for worldwide Occupy protests in May.
He said that Occupy members would not attempt to revive the camp at St. Paul’s Cathedral.
“That’s the end of this particular camp in that form of protesting,” he said. “Legally we cannot set up any tents and there will obviously be a police presence.”
In a statement on its website, the City of London Corporation confirmed that it had take action to remove the protesters.
“We regret that it has come to this but the High Court Judgment speaks for itself and the Court of Appeal has confirmed that Judgment,” the statement said.