Wed, Aug 15, 2007 - Page 6 News List

UK police draw up protest battle lines at Heathrow

ACTIVISM Protesters agreed to have authorities stationed on site to reduce tension, but direct action could target roads


London's Heathrow airport is braced for direct action by environmental activists amid fears that the airport will be paralyzed this weekend by protesters attempting to shutdown key access roads.

Airport owner BAA has drawn up contingency plans to protect terminals and perimeter fences as it tries to second guess thousands of climate change campaigners who have begun to gather for today's launch of an eight-day climate change action camp.

Camp organizers agreed to have four police officers stationed on site to try to reduce tension building between campaigners and Scotland Yard. Protesters yesterday accused the police of heavy-handedness and needlessly using anti-terrorism powers to stop and search everyone approaching the camp, prevent access by vehicles, and inspect the site.

The organizers have said they primarily intend to target the aviation industry and had ruled out breaking onto the tarmac or going "airside." But the police and BAA widely expect anti-capitalist, anti-globalization and road protest groups to stage guerrilla-style protests.

Roads have emerged as a vulnerable link in Heathrow's infrastructure. Three-quarters of the 1.5 million people using the airport over the next week are expected to travel by car, bus or taxi.

"We have been working with the police on this for months, looking at a number of scenarios," said a BAA spokesman. "We have specific plans for what the protesters might do and general plans which will hopefully ensure that 1.5 million people do not have their holidays ruined."

It is understood BAA and the police are preparing for attempts to block roads. It is thought protesters are considering possible direct action on a road tunnel leading to terminals 1, 2 and 3 -- one of the airport's main transport routes.

"Protesters will be putting their own and passengers' lives at risk if they get on to the runways," BAA logistics director Shaun Cowlam said. "The biggest threat to the airport is renegade activists. The more extreme elements clearly pose a more serious threat to the airport."

The company yesterday said it would employ more than 2,500 security staff over the next week as well as the 600 armed police officers who regularly work at Heathrow, and the 1,800 officers drafted in from four police forces.

The canvas city outside the village of Sipson grew yesterday as around 100 new protesters arrived, taking the total to 250 activists. But camp organizers accused the police of deliberately making it difficult to set up the camp. No vehicles were allowed along the road for much of yesterday, forcing new arrivals to lug their equipment 400m along the lane.

Spokeswoman Alex Harvey said police had refused to allow the site to connect with the mains water supply and prevented food, plumbing equipment and other essential supplies being moved in. Protesters also formed a human chain.

More than 1,500 people, including MPs, scientists and academics are expected to visit the camp. But numbers may be significantly lower because of the torrential rain forecast from yesterday.

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