Activists with the Extinction Rebellion movement blocked major roads across major European cities Monday, kicking off a wide-ranging series of worldwide protests demanding much more urgent action against climate change.
In Berlin, around 1,000 people blocked the Grosser Stern, a traffic circle in the middle of the German capital’s Tiergarten park dominated by the landmark Victory Column. That protest began before dawn.
At Monday lunchtime, another 300 people blocked Berlin’s central Potsdamer Platz, placing couches, tables, chairs and flowerpots on the road.
Police started carrying those protesters away one by one in the evening after official entreaties for them to leave were ignored. The protesters didn’t resist, but also didn’t help and had to be picked up and removed individually; no arrests were reported.
Members of Extinction Rebellion, a loose-knit movement also known as XR that started last year in Britain, over the weekend set up a tent camp outside Chancellor Angela Merkel’s office to prepare for the protests, reflecting dissatisfaction with a climate policy package drawn up last month by her government.
Demonstrators playing steel drums marched through central London as they kicked off two weeks of activities designed to disrupt the city.
London police said some 135 climate activists had been arrested. Extinction Rebellion said protesters were arrested as they blocked Victoria Embankment, outside the Ministry of Defense.
Among those arrested was 81-year-old Sarah Lasenby, a retired social worker from Oxford.
“It is imperative the government should take serious actions and put pressure on other states and global powers to radically reduce the use of fossil fuels,” she said.
In Amsterdam, hundreds of demonstrators blocked a major road outside the Rijksmuseum, one of the city’s most popular tourist attractions, and set up tents. The protest went ahead despite a city ban on activists gathering on the road. The protesters ignored police calls for them to move to a nearby square.
In Spain, a few dozen activists briefly chained themselves to each other and to an elevated road over a major artery in the Madrid, snarling traffic during the morning rush hour. The National Police said 33 activists were taken to their premises and three were arrested for resisting orders by anti-riot officers.
A few hundred other protesters camped out in 40 tents at the gates of Spain’s Ministry of Ecological Transition.
Around 1,000 protesters blocked the area around Chatelet in central Paris and vowed to stay at least the night in the makeshift camp they had pitched. Some were seated, some chained to a barrel.
“You might come from a variety of different groups, but we all stand against a system that’s destroying the planet and mankind and we’re looking to change that because we can’t just have little changes, we want a real big change,” said Pierrick Jalby, a 28-year-old nurse from eastern France. “We don’t want reforms; in fact, we want a revolution.”
Outside of Europe, Extinction Rebellion said protests were planned Monday in Turkey, Canada, South Africa, Mexico and elsewhere.
In New York City, protesters doused the famous charging bull statue near Wall Street with fake blood. One protester waving a green flag climbed on top of the bull. Afterward, participants were seen mopping the fake blood off the ground.
“The blood of the world is here,” said Justin Becker, an organizer. He said the fossil fuel industry is directly connected to the financial interests of Wall Street.
“A lot of blood has been spilled by the decisions of the powerful and the status quo and the toxic system that we live in,” Becker said.
Those at the Berlin protests included activist Carola Rackete, best known as the German captain of a humanitarian rescue ship, who was arrested for docking in an Italian port without authorization this year to disembark migrants rescued at sea.
“We must stay here and rebel until the government proclaims an ecological emergency and acts accordingly,” Rackete said.
Founded in Britain last year, Extinction Rebellion, also known as XR, now has chapters in some 50 countries. The group said the protests Monday were taking place in 60 cities worldwide.
Merkel’s chief of staff, Helge Braun, criticized its tactics.
“We all share an interest in climate protection, and the Paris climate targets are our standard in this,” he told ZDF television. “If you demonstrate against or for that, that is OK. But if you announce dangerous interventions in road traffic or things like this, of course that is just not on.”
He dismissed the idea of declaring a “climate emergency,” saying that the German constitution doesn’t provide for such a thing and it doesn’t translate into “concrete action.”