British police on Monday removed tents and protesters from Parliament Square in the latest twist in a decade-long battle to clear prime London real estate.
Scotland Yard said two people were arrested in the operation to remove "all tents and sleeping equipment" from the square. It said officers had arrived on the scene around 7:30 p.m. and wrapped up around three hours later after removing eight tents and "moving on" 10 to 12 people.
The officers were enforcing the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act of 2011, which gave police new powers to prevent encampments around Parliament Square, according to Scotland Yard.
It said the arrests late Monday were for breaching that act, while one other individual was handed a summons during the clearing operation. The officers were assisted by teams from the local Westminster council in loading equipment into trucks.
In December, the council passed a bylaw that would impose fines of 500 pounds ($766) for failure to remove tents from Parliament Square, and Council leader Colin Barrow expressed support for the police action Monday evening.
"For too long local people and tourists have been unable to fully enjoy the square," he said. "This is a tragedy and the sooner this historic site can be enjoyed by the public the better."
Protesters in colorful tents and with equally-colorful slogans have been staked out opposite the houses of Parliament for about 10 years.
The campaigners were initially led by and loyal to Brian Haw, a veteran British peace activist who staged around-the-clock protests outside London's Parliament continuously for 10 years prior to his death last year from cancer.
Haw set up camp opposite the Houses of Parliament in June 2001 to protest U.S. and British bombing raids on Iraq. His protest soon widened in scope in the following years, with the invasion of Afghanistan.
Over the years, British officials tried _ but failed _ to shut down his protests and remove him and his collection of pictures showing war victims and slogans such as "Baby Killers" from Parliament Square.
In 2002, the local council took legal action to remove him, saying he was a nuisance, but the case never went to court. Subsequent legal challenges resulted in limiting Haw's protest site.
His supporters set up a "Democracy Village" on Parliament Square in 2010, but moved to the sidewalk next to it in 2011 after Greater London Authority received permission to evict Haw and the protesters from the grassy green.
Cassandra Vinograd can be reached at http://twitter.com/CassVinograd