Extinction Rebellion: 680 arrests as police aim for 'business as usual'

Sharon Marris, news reporter

Police have arrested more than 680 climate change protesters as they say they aim to give businesses on London's Oxford Street a chance to return to "business as usual".

A Metropolitan Police spokesman said: "Officers have made a number of arrests, mainly focused at Oxford Circus, as we are trying our best to give the businesses a chance to return to 'business as usual'.

"One thing that is unusual about this demonstration is the willingness of those participating to be arrested and also their lack of resistance to the arrests.

"To date (since Monday 15 April), we have made over 680 arrests and of course that places a logistical problem on, and not just, the police service for cell space but also the wider criminal justice system."

Police also dismantled the pink ship in the centre of Oxford Circus which had been a focal point for climate change protesters this week.

Officers kept a close circle on the boat throughout the day, and eventually managed to get the last activist off, before taking it apart and removing it.

The boat bears the words "Tell the Truth". It had been moored to the street for the last five days.

Earlier on Friday, actress Emma Thompson read a poem to the crowds while stood on the ship.

Police have been carrying activists away from the protests, which have been blocking parts of central London. There were more than 100 arrests on Friday, bringing the total to 682 since Monday.

Extinction Rebellion, the group behind the protests, tweeted: "The police have started to make arrests in Oxford Circus after we finished reading out our poems to the crowd.

"We need the government to take radical action now.

"Please listen to the people. Or stand aside and let something better emerge."

Sky News reporter Helen-Ann Smith, who was at Oxford Circus, said Friday's gathering had started quietly but the mood has "shifted slightly" since then.

She said about 300 police officers had arrived and surrounded the large pink boat used as a symbol by Extinction Rebellion, the group behind the protests.

Later, officers started the process of freeing protesters who had attached themselves to the boat's frame.

Just hours earlier, about 20 young people from the group had gathered beside a roundabout at Heathrow airport.

They held a banner saying "are we the last generation?" - but, amid a heavy police presence, all roads remained open.

On Thursday, Extinction Rebellion had threatened to "raise the bar" at Britain's busiest airport, which was expected to be used by almost 250,000 people on the first day of the Easter break.

But by Friday lunchtime, the protesters left without having disrupted a single flight, saying they felt their message had been heard.

Meanwhile, actress Dame Emma Thompson spoke to protesters gathered at Oxford Circus, telling them "our planet is in serious trouble".

She told Sky News that she had been a member of anti-climate change groups for decades and was frustrated about the lack of government action on the issue.

She added: "I really do care about my children and my grandchildren enough to want to be here today to stand next to the next generation who are so inspiring, who so understand the problem.

"I've watched successive governments sign successive agreements on climate change over the years and then I've watched them absolutely and utterly ignore the agreements that they've made because they're not legally binding.

"When it comes to fossil fuels, democracy doesn't come into it."

Dame Emma has also been accused of hypocrisy after taking a 5,400-mile flight from Los Angeles in the US to join the protests.

The protests have blocked Marble Arch, Oxford Circus, Parliament Square and Waterloo Bridge since Monday. As of Friday afternoon, only 10 people have been charged.