Police have moved in to begin arresting climate activists blocking Waterloo Bridge in central London.
Hundreds of people had occupied the crossing – and three other sites in central London since Monday morning.
Overnight officers tried to clear the bridge, arresting 113 people, but the blockade remained in place. However, just after 12.30pm on Tuesday officers moved in again and began to carry people away.
One of those facing arrest was Angie Zealter, 67 from Knighton in Wales. “It will take the police some time to clear all these people and more will come here to support us,” she said.
“But this is a very import moment in history – it should have happened 50 years ago but at least it is starting to happen now. We are running out of time and our government must listen.”
Several hundred people remained on the bridge, some of them locked or glued to a lorry parked across the carriageway.
One of those glued to the underside of the van, Ben Moss, 42, a company director from Bristol, said he had been there since midnight. “It’s drastic times and drastic times need drastic measures. I am taking personal action and personal responsibility for the ecological and climate crisis.”
He said he was breaking the law for the sake of future generations. “I feel really sorry for the inconvenience we are causing and it is nothing personal, but the inconvenience we will all face if we don’t tackle this will be much, much worse.”
The protests are part of a global campaign organised by the British climate group Extinction Rebellion, with demonstrations planned in 80 cities across 33 countries in the coming days.
The group has called on the UK government to reduce carbon emissions to zero by 2025 and establish a citizens’ assembly to devise an emergency plan of action to tackle climate breakdown and biodiversity loss.
Roger Hallam, one of the movement’s leaders, said on Monday nothing like this had been seen on the streets of London for decades. “What’s amazing about this is for 30 years you have just had that closing up of public space: ‘You can’t do this, you can’t do that, you’ve got to finish then.’
“Suddenly, what Extinction Rebellion has done is actually say: ‘We are doing this.’ And the state is so weak through austerity that they can’t stop us.”
The campaign cites as inspiration the civil rights and suffragette movements and is backed by hundreds of scientists and academics, including the former archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams.
Williams, who took part in the protests on Monday, said the night before that humans had declared war on nature. “We are here tonight to declare that we do not wish to be at war. We wish to make peace with ourselves by making peace with our neighbour Earth and with our God,” he said.
The group wrote to Theresa May on Monday outlining their demands and asking for talks. In the letter, they warned they would escalate their disruptive actions over the coming days and weeks unless the government acted.
“Make no mistake, people are already dying,” the letter said. “In the majority world, indigenous communities are now on the brink of extinction. This crisis is only going to get worse … prime minister, you cannot ignore this crisis any longer. We must act now.”
At Waterloo Bridge, protesters had blocked the crossing over the Thames and turned it into an impromptu garden bridge on Monday, with people bringing trees, flowers and setting up a miniature skate park and stage.
Later, the Met issued an order under section 14 of the Public Order Act, which allows conditions to be imposed on public processions and assemblies.
The order restricted protesters to the area around Marble Arch. A police officer on the bridge said the Met could impose limits on assembly if they felt there was a serious risk of disruption or to public order. “Obviously, sitting down on Waterloo Bridge is a serious disruption to the community,” he said.
An XR spokesman said police had on Tuesday morning also issued a section 14 notice to protesters blocking the roads around Parliament Square, but no arrests had been made. “There’s a couple of police on site but it doesn’t look like they are moving at all,” he said. “We are just doing teachouts on the periphery, at the roadblocks.”
The spokesman said he had spent much of the night at the Oxford Circus roadblock, where many police vans had been waiting, apparently to begin taking people away from there. But at about 2am all those police vehicles had left, presumably to back up officers on Waterloo Bridge, he said. “Basically Waterloo Bridge saved us all,” the spokesman said.
Organisers have said they hope the protests will last for several days and that its success depends on the number of people willing to occupy the sites in the days and nights ahead.