“Occupy” protests force London’s St Paul’s Cathedral to close
London’s landmark St Paul’s Cathedral closed its doors on Friday because of hazards posed by hundreds of protesters encamped in front of it in a demonstration inspired by the Occupy Wall Street movement. Dean Graeme Knowles, a senior Church of England cleric, wrote an open letter to protesters asking them to leave the square peacefully, which they have occupied since last Saturday after initially targeting the nearby London Stock Exchange.
“We have done this with a very heavy heart, but it is simply not possible to fulfill our day to day obligations to worshippers, visitors and pilgrims in current circumstances,” Knowles said in a statement.
Fire and health hazards posed by the camp – which has been steadily growing through the week – make it impossible for the cathedral, a popular tourist attraction, to legally remain open, he added.
In response, protesters issued a statement saying they had made every effort to facilitate the cathedral’s concerns, and asked for clarification on what more they could do. “We will continue,” protester Ronan McNern told Reuters. “The fight has got to go on.” Camp organisers called an emergency assembly to discuss the future of the demonstration.
What had started as a few dozen tents on Saturday soon grew to a self-styled city – with its own university, library, canteen and toilets – governed by a burgeoning bureaucracy. The colourful camp, on paved stones in front of the sweeping cathedral steps, puzzled tourists visiting the 17th century landmark, whose dome is a familiar part of the London skyline. ‘Church liasion officers’ were elected to mediate between the camp and the cathedral, rearranging tents into orderly lines and clearing a path to its fire exit in response to church concerns.