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Tens of thousands rally in London against austerity

  • A demonstrator shouts at police officers during an anti-austerity protest march through central London, Saturday, Oct. 20, 2012. Tens of thousands of demonstrators descended on the British capital Saturday in a noisy but peaceful protest at a government austerity drive aimed at slashing the nation's debt. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)

LONDON: Tens of thousands of people marched through London and other British cities on Saturday in protest against spending cuts by Prime Minister David Cameron's struggling coalition government.

Marchers carried signs reading "No cuts" and "Cameron has butchered Britain," condemning the austerity measures introduced by Cameron's Conservative-led coalition in a bid to reduce Britain's huge deficit.

Police said the main march was peaceful, but two people were arrested as breakaway anarchist groups protested outside major companies including McDonald's and Starbucks in the Oxford Street shopping hub.

Scotland Yard did not provide an estimate for the turnout on the three-mile (4.8-kilometre) march route but organisers said police had told them that around 100,000 people attended.

"This is not a crisis that is going to sort itself out through cuts," 19-year-old protester Jonathan told AFP. "We've had a double-dip recession now, and we are here today to show we are not going to stand it any longer."

In Scotland's biggest city Glasgow around 5,000 people took part in a separate protest while there was also a march in Belfast, Northern Ireland.

Britain climbed out of a deep economic downturn in late 2009 but fell back into recession at the end of 2011.

The coalition said after coming to power in 2010 that most ministries' budgets would be cut by a fifth over four years, while other unpopular measures include a tripling of university tuition fees and a public sector pay freeze.

Protesters paused to boo at Cameron's Downing Street residence, and shouted "Pay your taxes!" at a Starbucks coffee shop.

Starbucks was embroiled in a row this week after it was reported that the US giant paid just £8.6 million ($13.8 million, 10.6 million euros) in British corporation tax over 14 years.

A smaller group of protesters, many of them masked and clad in black, gathered in Oxford Street to demonstrate against big brands accused of tax avoidance.

"There's plenty of tax-avoiding businesses round here and they're being targeted today -- companies like Starbucks, Topshop and Vodafone," said 18-year-old protester Johnny, a student at London's Goldsmiths University.

Police arrested two protesters in Oxford Street for assaulting police officers and they remain in custody, a Scotland Yard spokesman told AFP.

Dozens of police in high-visibility jackets stood in lines outside branches of several businesses while police helicopters buzzed overhead.

At a huge rally in Hyde Park at the end of the march, opposition Labour leader Ed Miliband attacked Cameron for "cutting too far and too fast".

"He clings to an economic plan that isn't working," Miliband told protesters.

But the crowd booed Miliband when he said that any government in power at the moment would have to make some spending cuts.

Cameron, whose Conservatives share power with the centrist Liberal Democrats, insisted that spending cuts were needed to balance Britain's budget.

"Today Ed Miliband is headlining a rally calling for an end to every single spending cut needed to clear the deficit," he said in a message on his Twitter account.

The protest comes after the Conservatives were hit on Friday by fresh accusations they are a party of the rich and are out of touch with ordinary voters.

Andrew Mitchell, the government's chief whip or head of discipline, resigned late Friday after admitting that he swore at police who refused to let him exit Downing Street's main gate with his bicycle.

Mitchell denies claims that he called police "plebs" -- a derogatory term for the common people -- during the tirade.

In a separate row, Conservative finance minister George Osborne attracted additional negative headlines after he sat in a first-class train carriage on Friday with a standard ticket, before paying for an upgrade.

 
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