Tens of thousands march against austerity in London

Katherine Haddon
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Anti-austerity demonstrators kiss outside the Bank of England as they wait for the start of the march in London on June 20, 2015

Anti-austerity demonstrators kiss outside the Bank of England as they wait for the start of the march in London on June 20, 2015 (AFP Photo/Justin Tallis)

London (AFP) - Tens of thousands of people joined an anti-austerity march through central London on Saturday, the first major public protest since Prime Minister David Cameron won last month's general election.

Demonstrators, some of whom had travelled from across Britain, carried placards with slogans such as "End Austerity Now" and "No Cuts" as they snaked through the city from the Bank of England to the Houses of Parliament.

Organisers claimed that as many as 250,000 people had joined the march. While police would not put a figure on attendance, they said there had been no arrests and no violence, although a series of flares were let off.

Sian Bloor, a 45-year-old teacher from near Manchester, northwest England, said she was marching because government austerity measures had had a "huge impact" on her school.

"I regularly bring clothes and shoes for children and biscuits for their breakfast, just so they get something to eat," she said. "You can see how children are being affected by the cuts."

Cameron clinched an unexpected election victory on May 7 that gave his centre-right Conservative party a majority in parliament for the first time in nearly 20 years. The 48-year-old had previously led a coalition government since 2010.

He has already overseen tough austerity cuts to public services as the government seeks to reduce a budget deficit of nearly £90 billion (120 billion euros, $140 billion).

Cameron's government has pledged to bring the world's fifth-largest economy back to balance and has vowed to make £30 billion in cutbacks -- nearly half to welfare -- over the next two years.

Finance minister George Osborne is expected to reveal further details of new austerity measures in the Conservative government's first budget on July 8.


- More protests coming up -

The protest -- joined by celebrities such as comedian Russell Brand, opposition politicians and trade union bosses -- was led through the streets of London by a mini brass band.

Brand -- who was mobbed by young fans taking selfies with him as he arrived -- later addressed the crowds in Parliament Square.

There were also smaller marches held in Glasgow and Liverpool and organisers vowed this would be the start of a rolling programme of demonstrations.

"It will be the start of a campaign of protest, strikes, direct action and civil disobedience up and down the country," said Sam Fairbairn of organisers the People's Assembly.

"We will not rest until austerity is history, our services are back in public hands and the needs of the majority are put first."

As the march took place, Cameron vowed "not to waste a second in delivering our manifesto commitments" on his Facebook page.

"We will keep working through our plan to create more security and opportunity in our country -- and, with your help, we can secure a brighter future for everyone in Britain," he added.