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Police Blame 'Rent-a-Mob' for Tax Protests in Britain

March 07, 1990|From Associated Press

LONDON — Police today accused "international socialists" of being behind widespread tax protests that disrupted local council meetings and led to clashes with authorities.

But a protest organizer said 99% of the demonstrators were local people angered at having to pay higher taxes.

Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's controversial new "community charge" is a flat tax on all adults that opponents say unfairly favors the wealthy. It will finance local services by replacing property taxes with a personal charge on all people aged 18 and over. In one community, the proposed charge is $810 a year.

People rebelling against it included an 89-year-old former war correspondent who handed back his medal at Buckingham Palace and a teacher who lectured magistrates on the Magna Charta.

Four constables were injured and 21 demonstrators arrested Tuesday in the worst violence, in Bristol. Anti-tax disturbances also were reported in Bradford, Birmingham, Exeter, Maidenhead, Norwich, Weston-super-Mare, Worcester, Gillingham, Lowestoft and Reading.

Police Federation Chairman Alan Eastwood claimed that many protesters were from outside London.

"It is rent-a-mob Trotskyites who attend most of these demonstrations," he contended in an interview on British Broadcasting Corp. Radio 4.

"Why should a police officer have to be assaulted because somebody feels aggrieved about a tax? It is these international socialists who take on any issue to have a go at the police," he said.

Steve Nally, secretary of the All Britain Anti-Poll Tax Federation, said he sympathized with the far-left Militant group, which, along with "many other people from a broad political spectrum," had been involved in peaceful protests against what has been dubbed the poll tax.

He insisted that 99% of the protesters were local people.

The citizens were backed by their representatives in the House of Commons, where Michael Martin of the opposition Labor Party told Thatcher, "Your friends are deserting you. Why don't you give up this irrational obsession to implement the poll tax?"

Thatcher, whose waning popularity has been blamed in part on the tax, again blamed local councils for spending too much money, thus necessitating a tax increase.

Scuffles began in Bristol as about 500 demonstrators learned that the council set a tax of $810 per adult per year, one of the highest in England. One policeman was taken to the hospital unconscious after he was knocked to the ground, kicked and punched.

In the northern city of Birmingham, protesters scuffled with council officials and police. A councilor of the governing Conservative party and two teen-age aides held doors to the council chamber shut and kept all but half a dozen demonstrators out.

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