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Government defiant as London counts the cost of cuts protest violence

As London counted the cost of the TUC protest that was later marred by violence, political recriminations flew over Ed Miliband's decision to attend the rally to denounce the speed and scale of public-spending cuts.

Allies of the Labour leader said he had been right to attend Britain's largest demonstration for eight years on Saturday — it has been estimated half-a-million people took part.

But ministers said they would not be deterred from pushing ahead with the spending squeeze, while Tory MPs mocked Mr Miliband for comparing the anti-cuts campaign to the struggle against apartheid. Retailers also protested that police, despite having 4,500 officers on duty, were unable to stop violent demonstrators reaching shops and banks.

Scotland Yard said that two people had been charged in connection with the disorder. There were a further 201 arrests, mainly for public-order offences, following a night of confrontation on the streets of the capital's West End.

Witnesses said many of those taking part in the worst of the violence employed so-called “black bloc” tactics — wearing black clothing and hiding their faces with scarves and hoods — while others sported anarchist flags.

Earlier, Mr Miliband had told the assembled crowd in Hyde Park that popular action could bring about political change. Some colleagues had advised him not to attend for fear it could be wrecked by violence, but the shadow Welsh secretary, Peter Hain, defended the leader's presence. “I think the decent mainstream majority in Britain are on Ed Miliband's side and on Labour's side,” he said.

The TUC general secretary, Brendan Barber, said: “We condemn the small numbers who came looking for violence but we will not allow their actions to detract from our campaign.”

But the Tory MP Harriett Baldwin said: “For Ed Miliband to compare himself to the anti-apartheid campaigners fighting for equal rights for blacks or to the suffragettes' struggle for votes for women just beggars belief.”

Vince Cable, the Business Secretary, admitted that the cuts would be “painful” and “difficult”.

But he told BBC One's Politics Show: “We're not going to change the basic economic strategy. No government — coalition, Labour or any other — would change its fundamental economic policy simply in response to a demonstration of that kind.”

There was condemnation of the violence which left 84 people with minor injuries, including 31 police officers. Social-networking sites were flooded with video footage, claims and counter-claims about the violence. Detectives were beginning to look at CCTV footage which could lead to more arrests.

Factfile

Corporate targets:

  • Boots: Registered in Switzerland, where taxes are far lower. UK Uncut claims that since 2008, the tax Boots pays in the UK has dropped from 33% to 3%.
  • RBS: The 84% state-owned bank has come under fire for paying more than 100 of its bankers more than £1m each. UK Uncut points out bonuses reached almost £1bn, while loses were £1.93bn for 2010.


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