London protesters clash with police as thousands around world defy coronavirus bans to demonstrate

Adela Suliman and Nancy Ing and Justin Solomon and Reuters and Nicole Acevedo

British anti-racism protesters briefly clashed with mounted police on Saturday as thousands gathered in central London to voice their anger at police brutality after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

After a largely peaceful day, small numbers of protesters near Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s residence threw bottles at police and mounted officers charged at demonstrators to push them back. More than a thousand people also marched past the U.S. Embassy in London, blocking traffic.

Image: (Frank Augstein / AP)

Thousands of people took the streets, holding signs saying “Black Lives Matter” and ignoring government advice to avoid large gatherings due to the risk from coronavirus.

Similar demonstrations were held in other cities across the world, from Paris to Sydney, and even Tokyo.

In Paris, police officially banned protests on Saturday, citing fears of the respiratory illness. It was to no avail as people turned out in force in the center of the French capital.

Security forces sealed off the city's U.S. Embassy and surrounding streets, where organizers had hoped to gather.

Image: Black Lives Matter protest Paris (Anne-Christine Poujoulat / AFP - Getty Images)

In a grey and rainy central London, thousands defied a plea from Britain's Home Secretary Priti Patel to stay at home and gathered in Parliament Square, a traditional venue for protests outside the country's legislature.

Many demonstrators "took the knee" in silence and then chanted Floyd's name before applauding his memory.

Coronavirus rules in England limit gatherings to groups of six, provided people observe the social distancing guidelines to remain around 6 feet apart, but many demonstrators ignored this advice, although a majority did appear to be wearing face masks.

Thousands of mostly young people, many also dressed in black, joined a black lives matter protest in Berlin's Alexander Square.

Some held up placards with slogans such as "Be the change," "I can't breathe," and "Germany is not innocent."

Many knelt silently for 8 minutes and 46 seconds.

Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer charged with second degree murder in Floyd's death, kept his knee on Floyd's neck for that amount of time, according to the criminal complaint filed against him by the state of Minnesota.

Three more former police officers from the city, Tou Thao, Thomas Lane and J. Alexander Kueng, have been charged with aiding and abetting murder, according to separate criminal complaints filed against them.

Solidarity protests also took place across Australia, as thousands of demonstrators in Sydney, Brisbane and Adelaide honored the memory of George Floyd and protested the deaths of indigenous Australians.

Those at the Sydney rally — where many shared hand sanitizer and wore masks — got a late reprieve when an appeal against a court ruling declared the rally legal to go ahead. The New South Wales Court of Appeal gave the green light just 12 minutes before the protest was scheduled to start, meaning those taking part could not be arrested.

In Brisbane, organizers said about 30,000 people gathered, while a Maori group also did a traditional haka, or war dance. Indigenous Australians make up 2 percent of the country's adult population, but 27 percent of the prison population. They also have lower levels of employment and shorter life expectancies.

Elsewhere, protesters gathered in South Korea’s capital Seoul for the second day.

Wearing black shirts and protective face masks, dozens of demonstrators marched through the commercial district in downtown Seoul, carrying signs reading: "Koreans for Black Lives Matter."

Image: Black Lives Matter protest Germany (Maja Hitij / Getty Images)

In Tokyo, dozens of people gathered in a peaceful protest, while nearby in Bangkok, activists held a virtual vigil online observing 8 minutes 46 seconds of silence.

However, in Hong Kong, organizers of a black lives matter demonstration planned for Sunday said they were forced to cancel the event. They say over fears of breaching coronavirus social distancing rules and concerns other groups might hijack the event to "push their own agenda."

"This is an enormous shame that people have lost sight of the reason why we were doing this event in the first place," wrote one of the event organizers, Max Percy, on a now deleted Facebook page.

"We are saddened by the state of Hong Kong," he added.

Despite the cancellation, Percy told NBC News he suspects many people will still show up, due to the large interest in the event to honor George Floyd.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.