LONDON (Reuters) – Thousands of climate activists took to the streets of cities around the world on Monday, launching two weeks of peaceful civil disobedience to demand immediate action to cut carbon emissions and avert an ecological disaster.
In London, police arrested 135 activists from the Extinction Rebellion group as they blocked bridges and roads in the city center, and glued themselves to cars, while protesters in Berlin halted traffic at the Victory Column roundabout.
Dutch police stepped in to arrest more than 100 climate change activists blocking a street in front of the country’s national museum and there were similar protests in Austria, Spain, New Zealand and Australia.
“SORRY that we blocked the road, but this is an emergency,” declared placards held by activists in Amsterdam.
The protests are part of an international two-week campaign coordinated by Extinction Rebellion, a campaign group that rose to prominence in April when it disrupted traffic in central London for 11 days.
They are the latest in a string of demonstrations against climate change. Last month, millions of young people flooded onto the streets of cities around the world, inspired to take action by 16-year-old Swedish activist Greta Thunberg.
Banging drums and chanting, protesters in London took over Trafalgar Square and marched down the Mall, the avenue that leads to Buckingham Palace, carrying banners with slogans such as “Climate change denies our children a future unless we act now”.
“We’re here because the government is not doing enough on the climate emergency,” protester Lizzy Mansfield said in London. “We only get one planet and so we’re here to try and defend it.”
Police chiefs said last week they would mobilize thousands of officers to handle the protests in London and anyone who broke the law, even as part of non-violent civil disobedience, would be arrested.
On Saturday, officers used a battering ram to enter a building in south London where activists had been storing materials to use during the protests. Eight people were arrested during the raid.
‘OUT OF TIME’
Defying almost freezing temperatures in Berlin, activists singing “Solid as a rock, rooted as a tree” gathered at dawn at the Victory Column roundabout near Berlin’s Tiergarten park.
At sunrise, some were sleeping in insulated bags in the middle of the roundabout as police on motorbikes drove by. No arrests were made and the protest remained peaceful.
Police blocked the five avenues that converge on the roundabout to stop cars and buses reaching the demonstration, as it would have resulted in traffic chaos during rush hour.
By midday, the protest had swelled to 4,000 people, a policeman said, and a second main roundabout was also blocked by activists sitting in the middle of the road.
The rally came as German Chancellor Angela Merkel defended climate protection measures her government is due to approve on Wednesday that have been condemned by critics as unambitious.
In Amsterdam, police were lining up empty city buses to take the arrested demonstrators away as they tried to clear a major thoroughfare in the afternoon.
“The climate crisis is not being taken seriously enough by politics, and also not by the companies. That’s why I joined,” said one demonstrator, who gave his name as Christiaan.
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Meanwhile activists in London, some wearing yellow safety helmets with “Rebel at Work” painted on the side, glued or chained themselves to cars parked in the middle of roads or to street lamps, making it hard for police officers to detain them.
“We are out of time, there is none left, we have to act now,” said a protester called Benjamin.