Police, Protesters Clash Ahead Of G-20 Summit

Protesters and police clashed Wednesday in London in advance of the G-20 economic summit, as demonstrators smashed windows and spray-painted graffiti on buildings in the city's financial district.

Police said protesters vandalized the Royal Bank of Scotland and pelted police with beer cans near the Bank of England. Scotland Yard estimated about 4,000 people were in the crowd after several demonstrations converged on the downtown area.

The Independent, a London newspaper, reported in late editions that 24 arrests were made. Late in the day, police said a man had been reported to have collapsed near one of the protest camps and responding officers were unable to resuscitate him. He was pronounced dead at a hospital. It was unclear if the man was a protester, and the cause of death was under investigation.

As protests died down Wednesday evening, President Obama and other G-20 leaders gathered for a reception with Queen Elizabeth II and then headed to a working dinner at the home of British Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

Obama and his wife, Michelle, were among the first dignitaries to meet the queen. During a private audience, the Obamas gave the queen a personalized iPod with video footage of her visit to Washington, D.C., and Virginia in 2007. They also gave her a songbook signed by composer Richard Rodgers.

"It was a wonderful visit," Obama shouted to reporters as he and his wife left Buckingham Palace. Obama, who has enjoyed a warm reception from Brown, was cheered by several hundred people as he left the royal residence.

Earlier Wednesday, Brown and Obama played down reported differences between leaders, but French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel told a news conference they are concerned about the form new financial regulation will take.

Merkel and Sarkozy want strong oversight for financial institutions, and Sarkozy has threatened to walk out if the summit doesn't yield progress on that front. Merkel said only tighter regulation can prevent another crisis.

While Obama said he, too, wants better regulation, he said he would not accept suggestions for a global regulator. But despite the different expectations, Brown predicted a deal is just hours away.

At the top of the agenda for the G-20 summit is reforming and re-regulating the global financial system to prevent future crisis. Sarkozy and Merkel want a rollback of the light-touch regulating that characterized American and British capitalism.

Obama said he is more interested in fixing the problem than pointing fingers, but he acknowledged that the U.S. bears some responsibility for the global economic downturn.

"If you look at the source of this crisis, the United States certainly has some accounting to do with respect to a regulatory system that was inadequate," he said.

Although Obama has received a warm reception, tensions surrounding the G-20 meeting increased throughout the day.

Chanting "Shame on you," protesters targeted the Royal Bank of Scotland and other businesses in the financial district. The protesters — angry about the bank's heavy losses that led to a government bailout — spray-painted the word "Thieves" on the side of the building.

Elsewhere, protesters pelted police with beer cans, fruit and flour as they tried to storm the Bank of England, Scotland Yard said in a statement.

In preparation for Wednesday's demonstrations — dubbed "Financial Fools Day" by protesters — banks and other businesses in the financial district were warned to board up windows, and employees were told to dress casually to avoid being targeted.

The recession has hit Britain hard. Property values have plummeted and more than 2 million people are unemployed. Like Americans, the British have been outraged by management and compensation issues in the financial sector.

Much of their anger has been directed at the Royal Bank of Scotland, which received a $28.75 billion bailout from the British government. Despite losses of $34.64 billion, former bank CEO Fred Goodwin is receiving a $1 million annual pension for life.

Away from the demonstrations, Obama and Chinese President Hu Jintao agreed to work together to address the economic crisis. The White House said Obama accepted an invitation to visit China later in the year.

Obama also met with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, with the two agreeing to pursue a deal to cut nuclear warheads and rebuild relations. In a joint statement, the presidents said negotiators will submit their first progress report by July, when Obama will visit Moscow for a summit.

Leaders of 19 key countries and the European Union are gathering in London for the G-20 meeting. Most of the work to come up with a strategy for stabilizing the financial markets is scheduled to take place Thursday.

From NPR and wire service reports



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