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UK police arrest 36 in anti-blockade protests

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LONDON: London police arrested dozens of people Saturday after thousands took to the British capital to protest against coronavirus blockade restrictions, with the city police force in the spotlight for the behavior of its officer following a series of recent incidents.
The Metropolitan Police Service said it had made 36 arrests, most for violating virus regulations several months that barred them from leaving home, except for a limited number of reasons.
Several thousand people were estimated to have gathered for the demonstrations, which began Saturday at lunch in Hyde Park.
After the crowd marched through central London, a group of about 100 people returned to the park where police said they fired rockets at the officers.
“Some were injured as a result of the targeted attacks,” Deputy Commissioner Laurence Taylor, who led the police operation, said in a statement.
“It is totally unacceptable and sad that the officers who enforce the regulations that are there to protect all of us were victims of violent attacks.”
England’s Covid-19 blockade measures have been in place since early January, when Britain saw an increase in infection rates, hospitalizations and deaths.
The situation has improved markedly since then, and Prime Minister Boris Johnson last month described a gradual easing of restrictions, with the strict stay-at-home order set to end later this month.
Anti-blockade demonstrations by the hundreds or even thousands have occurred regularly during the pandemic, often resulting in a small number of arrests.
– Met allegations lodged – However, police response to Saturday’s protests was under special scrutiny in light of anger over the handling of a Met vigilance over the weekend over a woman who was allegedly abducted and killed by a member of the same force.
On that occasion, police clashed with the mostly female crowd of several hundred demonstrators and physically restrained, arresting four people.
Police Commissioner Met Cressida Dick, who faced calls to resign after that, agreed to internal and independent reviews of how officers responded.
But in a development that is likely to increase pressure on the force, the Observer newspaper revealed on Sunday that Met employees face hundreds of allegations of sexual misconduct between 2012 and 2018.
According to the documents, the document accessed under the laws of freedom of information, 119 out of 594 complaints were supported after the investigation.
The alleged charges included one officer having sex with a rape victim and another assaulting a domestic abuse survivor, he said.
The rape victim complained the officer “took advantage of her vulnerability and had sex with her on two occasions,” The Observer reported, with the officer then fired.
Met told the newspaper the allegations include “a small percentage of staff” but that he takes “allegations of this nature extremely seriously”.
“If the standards prove to have fallen below what is expected, we take appropriate measures to ensure accountability and that lessons are learned from each case,” he added.
Meanwhile, recent events have also sparked new debate over the legal reduction of protests during the pandemic.
More than 60 lawmakers signed a letter Saturday, coordinated by rights groups Liberty and Big Brother Watch, warning that criminalizing the protest “is unacceptable and illegal.”

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