Pro-democracy protesters descended on central London tonight as the Occupy movement gathered to set up camp outside Parliament. Organisers called for supporters to "return to Parliament Square" outside the Palace of Westminster from 6pm until late on Sunday. Police have warned protesters they are banned from setting up camp at the landmark, as Scotland Yard insisted it had "an appropriate and proportionate police plan in place" for the event. Dozens of officers were stationed in front of fencing placed around Parliament Square which prevented people from accessing the site.
A spokesman for the Metropolitan Police said it attempted to make contact with organisers but the group had "failed to engage" with the police force. The force confirmed a Section 60 AA order was in place in the area around Parliament Square which gives police powers to force people to remove masks where they anticipate criminal activity. The order is in place until 2pm tomorrow, a police spokesman said. Protester Tom Kay, 21, from Sheffield, branded the police guard around Parliament Square "a disgrace". He said: "Protest is legal in this country and I think we should be able to protest where we want. The police are unwilling to let people protest seriously."
Announcing the event on the Occupy website, a statement said: "We're coming together because we want genuine democracy - free from corporate influence - where our voices count. Our votes, so hard won by the struggles of previous generations, have little value if politicians ignore the population they're supposed to serve." There were a series of clashes with police on Parliament Square last month as supporters of the Occupy movement stood their ground for nine days. Green Party politician Jenny Jones was among a group of arrested protesters. Under the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act, the police can forcibly remove any protesters that decide to set up camp in Parliament Square.
The legislation was introduced after anti-war campaigners spent years occupying the London landmark outside Parliament. About 100 protesters gathered at Parliament Square moved on to the road to form a blockade. They unveiled a banner reading "real democracy now" and chanted "the police should be helping us". Long tailbacks quickly formed along Whitehall as frustrated motorists sounded their horns.
There were scuffles with police as the protesters marched along the road around Parliament before walking to Whitehall and Downing Street. The protesters congregated peacefully on grassland opposite Downing Street amid a continued heavy police presence. Author Donnachadh McCarthy, 55, said: "It's outrageous that in Parliament Square free speech is being suppressed by Boris Johnson's officers. If you don't have free speech in front of Parliament, you don't have free speech."
The protesters returned to Parliament Square at around 9pm but were met by a police blockade. They gathered near the Nelson Mandela statue and played Free Nelson Mandela by The Specials. About 80 activists gathered outside the Supreme Court near Parliament. John Sinha, one of the organisers of the Occupy movement, said he believed the police blockade of Parliament Square was "illegal". "I suspect they probably have no legality in enforcing it," he said.