A BREAKAWAY group of protesters threw light bulbs filled with ammonia at police yesterday as violence broke out on the fringes of the main demonstration in central London.
As the main march made its way to Hyde Park yesterday afternoon, between 500 and 1,000 protesters instead made their way to the city's West End, targeting luxury shops and hotels.
Although peaceful occupations of some businesses had been organised, there were confrontations between the police and Balaclava-clad protesters, with some throwing paint bombs and traffic cones at officers.
Smoke grenades were also thrown, and other demonstrators started a fire in the centre of Oxford Street, London's main shopping thoroughfare.
Police made at least 202 arrests and 35 people were injured, with seven needing hospital attention. Five police officers were injured, with one taken to hospital suffering a groin injury.
Protest group UK Uncut, which has organised peaceful occupations of high street stores and banks over the past few months, had planned to target shops on Oxford Street, turning them into what it called "hospitals, theatres, libraries and more". But those plans took a turn for the worse as police became overwhelmed by the demonstrators, with the breakaway group causing damage to a number of shops.
HSBC on Shaftesbury Place saw some of the worst violence, with police being pelted with bottles, sticks and traffic cones. Outside the Ritz hotel, paint was thrown at the building, windows were smashed and a large A, for "anarchy", was written on the wall.
Covering their faces with scarves, protesters fought with police and disrupted traffic, throwing light bulbs filled with ammonia at officers.
One demonstrator, Matthew Moore, 23, from Glasgow, said that about 100 people had broken away from the main demonstration.
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He told Scotland on Sunday: "I followed the protest at Green Park, where men and women in black split off from the main protests to attack the Ritz hotel. The police were few in numbers and seemed unwilling to prevent them.
"The protesters set off stun bombs, loud bangs and threw paint. They went on smashing windows of decadent businesses for around an hour."
At Top Shop on Oxford Street, which has been a target of peaceful protests over owner Sir Philip Green's tax affairs in recent weeks, windows were smashed and paint bombs thrown.
Protesters continued down the street, smashing a window at an Ann Summers store on Wardour Street.
There were also reports that Santander and Lloyds TSB on Piccadilly had been attacked, with police charging protesters. The security doors were put down at the bank.
Police had braced themselves for disorder following clashes at demonstrations against student fees earlier this year. About 4,500 officers were on duty, many wearing riot helmets, along with hundreds of union-trained stewards.
Organisers of the main Trades Union Congress protest were quick to distance themselves from the violent clashes last night.
TUC general-secretary Brendan Barber said he "bitterly regretted" the violence, adding that he hoped it would not detract from the massive anti-cuts protest. He said: "I don't think the activities of a few hundred people should take the focus away from the hundreds of thousands of people who have sent a powerful message to the government today."
London police commander Bob Broadhurst said the march had passed largely peacefully, but added: "Unfortunately, we have had over 500 criminals attacking premises in the Oxford Circus area, causing damage. We anticipated there would be some problems. We have minimised the damage caused. We will never have enough officers to protect every building in central London, it cannot be done.
"The actual march has gone according to plan. Those damaging buildings have had nothing to do with the TUC."
Treasury minister Justine Greening condemned the violence, saying: "It's a real shame and totally unacceptable that this minority of people are committing criminal acts."
A spokesman for civil liberties group Liberty said: "There can be no doubt that the official trade union-led demonstration was overwhelmingly civil, peaceful and good-natured and the policing response was generally proportionate.
"However, the demonstration appeared to have been infiltrated by violent elements who periodically separated from the main route in order to attack high-profile commercial properties and the police before melting into the demonstration once more.
"This minority presented significant challenges for the police and trade union stewards alike, and at times jeopardised both the safety and ability to protest of those with peaceful intent."
Dave Prentis, the general-secretary of the Unison union, said the turnout at the main demonstration was "absolutely enormous" and showed the anger of ordinary working people at the government's cuts.
"We always expected a huge turnout because Unison alone has laid on 500 coaches and a number of trains, but the numbers are simply incredible.
"These are ordinary families and working people, many with their children, to send a strong message to David Cameron to halt the damaging cuts, which are leading to the loss of tens of thousands of jobs and the closure of services, including libraries and care homes."
Last night protesters were being contained in Trafalgar Square by hundreds of police officers, but clashes continued into the night.
In response to the violence, shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said that the behaviour of the rioters had been "criminal and dangerous".
She continued: "Peaceful demonstrators who marched to protect their families, jobs and services will be appalled and disgusted to see TV pictures of some thugs and idiots who have chosen to launch violent, criminal attacks against the police and property in central London.
"The mindless violence and criminal damage caused by these people is disgraceful and deserves to be met by the full force of the law."