Climate protests take off with London airport 'blockade'

Protesters have something to declare, but police are making sure they keep their feet on the ground.

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     Protesters stage a sit-in at the entrance of the London City Airport terminal building [Ylenia Gostoli/Al Jazeera]
    Protesters stage a sit-in at the entrance of the London City Airport terminal building [Ylenia Gostoli/Al Jazeera]

    London, UK - Climate protesters from the Extinction Rebellion movement converged on London City Airport on Thursday morning, glueing themselves to the floor at one of its entrances and to roads used by passengers going in and out of the terminal building, as well as infiltrating airside - having bought flight tickets.

    It was just past 9am when, under the watch of dozens of police and airport security personnel, about a hundred activists staged a sit-in in the hall connecting the airport with the Docklands Light Railway station, its main transport link into central London. Some had been lingering there or acting like coffee shop customers while waiting for others to arrive in small groups.

    Banners and flags with slogans and the group's now well-known hourglass symbol were unfurled, while some protesters superglued themselves to the floor of the building to make removal harder. Police formed a line behind them to attempt to keep as many out of the terminal building as possible.

    "Our government is doing nothing to safeguard our future," Senan Clifford, a retired 58-year-old teacher who was among those blocking the hall, told Al Jazeera. "We're staying here as long as it takes," he added. "I am not happy to be here, [but] I want to be able to live on a planet that I can enjoy fully."

    He had travelled from one of the improvised campsites set up by Extinction Rebellion in central London as part of the group's two-week "autumn rebellion", which kicked off on Monday with activists blocking roads around Westminster and the Houses of Parliament. Hundreds of activists have been camped out in central London since, despite police confiscating equipment frequently.

    Arrests welcomed

    Activists aim to cause a disruption at the airport until Saturday morning. They say its planned two billion pounds ($2.5bn) expansion goes against the government's target of achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

    According to London's Metropolitan Police, 842 people have been arrested since the start of this week's protests, which aim to apply pressure on the government to act immediately on the climate crisis. Activists volunteer for arrest as part of the movement's civil disobedience tactics.

    Despite the arrests, morale remains high among the protest movement. "We are supporting each other a lot and we're seeing that even though we've been arrested, we're keeping our sites, we're keeping our morale high, definitely," Mothiur Rahman, one of the group's organisers told Al Jazeera earlier this week, shortly after being released from an overnight jail stint.

    "In the end, it has to remain peaceful, and a lot of the theory behind it is about how peaceful civil disobedience."

    XR Airport
    Activists superglued their hands to the floor [Ylenia Gostoli/Al Jazeera] 

     As disruption mounts, the police are treating protesters as a public nuisance.

    "We are determined to deal with protesters robustly but proportionately," said Deputy Assistant Commissioner Laurence Taylor of the Metropolitan Police. "The consequences of committing offences at airports are serious; individuals breaking the law are being, and will continue to be, arrested and prosecuted where appropriate."

    Police on Thursday morning soon started dragging protesters away from the hall, asking journalists to leave the area and diverting travellers wishing to check in to another airport entrance a five-minute walk away.

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    Paralympian protest

    Customers who reached the terminal via unsignposted back roads found a second group of as many activists singing and dancing in front of the main entrance. A man had climbed onto the roof of the terminal, while airport security checked boarding passes before letting anyone in.

    Police also confirmed that a man had been arrested on the runway as a video emerged of a protester - a man in his 50s dressed in business attire - on board a plane attempting to deliver a speech to fellow passengers on the reasons for the disruption. The Aer Lingus flight to Dublin was delayed, but an airport spokesperson told Al Jazeera that "other than that, operations have continued and we are running a full schedule".

    The spokesperson said another man who had climbed on top of a parked aircraft had been taken away. Posting a video online from on top of a British Airways jet, Paralympic medallist James Brown said, "We are protesting against government inaction on climate and ecological breakdown."

    Slight delays have been recorded for most arrivals and departures, and the airport's website recommends passengers check the status of their flight before travelling to the airport.

    "Well-respected bodies such as the UN and the World Health Organization are all telling us we have almost run out of time, and our politicians are still not acting fast enough," 63-year-old Victoria Valentine told Al Jazeera outside the terminal building. Valentine, who heads a property developing company and was wearing a sign that read "CEOs against CO2" said she had been willing to get arrested, but had not been able to get inside the building.

    Among the movement's demands are a UK government commitment to net-zero emissions by 2025, and to creating a Citizens' Assembly to lead decisions on the climate crisis.

    "This is an issue that's been building over hundreds of years and yet, we're not even facing it," said Extinction Rebellion's Rahman.

    Parallel protests continue in cities around the world, from Australia to Latin America.

    The most recent round of protests of this scale took place in April, leading to the arrest of more than 1,100 activists, and to Parliament declaring a climate emergency in early May following a motion tabled by the leader of the opposition Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn.

    "They're just words, empty words," said Rahman. "The government is full of empty words, and we need action. And we're showing what action looks like."

    Al Jazeera's Jonah Hull contributed to this report.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera News