St. Pauls head: London demo must not stop visitors

October 20, 2011 - 3:40 AM
Britain Wall Street Protests

A masked protester from the Occupy London Stock Exchange group offers passing business people 'Free Hugs' as they continue their demonstration that started on Saturday outside St Paul's Cathedral, near the London Stock Exchange in London, Monday, Oct. 17, 2011. Protesters in cities across Europe have taken part in rallies inspired by the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations in the United States, expressing their frustration at social inequality and corporate greed. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)

LONDON (AP) — The head of St. Paul's Cathedral made a diplomatically worded plea Monday to anti-capitalist protesters camped outside, saying their presence should not deter tourists wanting to visit the historic building.

Around 500 demonstrators gathered outside the cathedral over the weekend as part of the global Occupy Wall Street protests. Many pitched tents around the cathedral, and have set up a makeshift kitchen, toilets and an information center.

St. Paul's is a London landmark nestled next to the city's financial district. Designed by 17th-century architect Christopher Wren, its domed roof still dominates the London skyline. Princess Diana married there in 1981, her long wedding train tumbling over the steps where the protesters have set up their base.

Dean Graeme Paul Knowles of St. Paul's said prayer services had continued as normal over the weekend, but the "last few days have not been without various challenges." In his statement, he added that the protesters have been careful to make sure they do not block people trying to enter the cathedral but said cathedral staff, police and community leaders are "monitoring the situation carefully."

Protesters had planned to demonstrate outside the nearby London Stock Exchange, but they were turned back and returned to the foot of the cathedral.

Police tried to move protesters away from St. Paul's on Sunday but senior priest Giles Fraser said the demonstrators were welcome to stay and asked police officers to move instead.

One protester, Ian Chamberlin said the camp was well organized and peaceful.

"We have shared rules about things like not drinking, not taking drugs. We want to make sure the camp is a safe place to be," he said. "There's something symbolic about staying here, near the stock exchange, to pass on our message that the banking system isn't serving the needs of ordinary people, it is not a democratic force."

Chamberlin, 27, said he is willing to remain at the camp as long as he is allowed to.

Police said eight people were arrested over the weekend, mainly for public disorder offenses, but the protests had been mainly peaceful.

Hundreds of thousands demonstrated against corporate greed in cities across Europe on Saturday, along with much smaller protests in cities across the U.S.

Rioters in Rome hijacked a peaceful protest, smashing bank and store windows, tearing up sidewalks and torching vehicles. The mayor of Rome says they caused at least euro1 million ($1.4 million) in damage.