Climate change protesters to ‘pause rebellion’ ahead of political negotiations

By Jemma Crew, Press Association

Climate change protesters who have stopped traffic in a series of peaceful demonstrations across London will “pause” their rebellion in a bid to achieve their political aims.

Extinction Rebellion (XR) have announced they are switching disruptive tactics for political negotiations as they enter a second week of campaigning to have the Government declare a climate emergency.

The group will no longer hold a picnic on the Westway by Edgware Road Underground station, which would have paused traffic on the busy A-road on the last day of the long Easter weekend.

It comes as the Metropolitan Police revealed 963 arrests have been made in connection with the demonstrations, as of 7pm Sunday, and 40 people charged.

Farhana Yamin, the group’s political circle co-ordinator, said: “Today marks a transition from week one, which focused on actions that were vision-holding but also caused mass disruption across many dimensions (economic, cultural, emotional, social).

“Week two marks a new phase of rebellion focused on negotiations where the focus will shift to our actual political demands.”

Police remove Extinction Rebellion demonstrators on Waterloo Bridge (Victoria Jones/PA)

She added: “We want to show that XR is a cohesive long-term, global force, not some flash in the pan.

“We can do that by showing we are disciplined and cannot only start disruptive actions but also end these when needed. We are not a rabble, we are rebels with a cause!

“Being able to ‘pause’ a rebellion shows that we are organised and a long-term political force to be reckoned with.

“This will give XR leverage as we enter into negotiations with those in power to make headway on our three demands.”

The group hopes to negotiate with the Mayor of London and Metropolitan Police to agree that they be allowed to continue their protests at Old Palace Yard, in Westminster, and leave other sites.

Police remove demonstrators on Waterloo Bridge (Victoria Jones/PA)

The announcement comes on the seventh day of the protests, as Greta Thunberg, the teenager who inspired the climate change school strikes, arrived at London’s Marble Arch.

The 16-year-old Swedish activist told the crowd: “For way too long the politicians and people in power have got away with not doing anything at all to fight the climate crisis and ecological crisis.

“But we will make sure that they will not get away with it any longer.”

Activists cheered as the teenager – who has already met Pope Francis and spoken at the European Parliament – spoke after chanting “We love you” as she walked onto the stage.

She continued: “Humanity is now standing at a crossroads. We must now decide which path we want to take.

“How do we want the future living conditions for all living species to be like?

“We have gathered here today, and in many other places throughout London and across the world too, we have gathered today because we have chosen which path we want to take and now we are waiting for the others to follow our example.”

Over the past week protesters have stopped traffic in Oxford Circus, set up camp in Marble Arch and created a temporary garden on Waterloo Bridge.

Members would commit to not disrupting other areas in exchange for Sadiq Khan speeding up the implementation of the Declaration of Climate and Ecological Emergency and considering setting up a London Citizens’ Assembly.

They will also set up a political taskforce to take forward public negotiations with the Government, warning that they are prepared to scale up action depending on how much progress is made.

Neither the Met nor the Mayor’s Office would say whether they were considering the proposals.

Demonstrations on Waterloo Bridge (Victoria Jones/PA)

Speaking earlier on Saturday, the TV presenter Chris Packham urged Prime Minister Theresa May and Environment Secretary Michael Gove to “come and say hello” and demonstrate that “we can begin to trust you again” with protecting the environment.

Speaking from the top of a bus stop on Waterloo Bridge, he said: “Our Government has been on holiday but tomorrow they come back full of Easter eggs.

“And before they press that blasted Brexit button again, we must ask them to think about something altogether more pressing: saving our planet.”

Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick said the policing operation had been unlike any she had experienced in almost four decades of policing, and called for the “miserable” disruption to end.

The Mayor said more than 9,000 police officers had been responding to the protests, which had proved “extremely challenging for our over-stretched and under-resourced police”.

Mr Khan said he shared activists’ passion about tackling climate change but added: “I’m extremely concerned about the impact the protests are having on our ability to tackle issues like violent crime if they continue any longer. It simply isn’t right to put Londoners’ safety at risk like this.

“My message to all protesters today is clear: you must now let London return to business as usual.”

On Saturday afternoon, police managed to successfully clear demonstrators in the junction at Oxford Circus, which was reopened to traffic, while dozens of officers carried out arrests on Waterloo Bridge and slowly removed campaigners who had attached themselves to a truck acting as a stage.

The lorry was cleared from the area at 5.18am on Sunday, police said. Later, officers began moving the activists to one side of the carriageway, and arresting those who were refusing to move.