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Eyewitness: Tension in London

Thousands of police were on duty in central London  

LONDON, England (CNN) -- As evening fell pockets of violence erupted in and around Oxford Street as police slowly dispersed May Day protesters.

A large crowd of demonstrators was held in Oxford Circus, hemmed in by a ring of riot police armed with plastic shields and truncheons.

Police loudspeakers announced: "You are being held (to prevent a) breach of the peace. You will be released in due course."

Demonstrators chanted back "We want out!" and unleashed a fusillade of missiles, including blocks of wood, horse dung, coins, scissors, bottles and balls of flaming paper.

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A small group of protesters with scarves bound around their faces systematically dismantled traffic lights and road signals, throwing lumps of metal and plastic at the police line.

Elsewhere along Oxford Street cordons of riot police, mounted and on foot, kept groups of protesters segregated, slowly driving them into the side streets.

Several protesters were injured as lines of police charged at them, driving them back with shields and batons.

One man was kicked by police as he sat down in the middle of the street. Another had his head split after being hit by a police truncheon.

Police cameramen filmed the protesters, who in turn filmed the police. Demonstration organisers handed out "bust cards" explaining what to do if you were arrested, and giving the number of a solicitor.

The mood of the crowd veered from peaceful to violent and back again. One moment they were standing calmly in front of the police lines, taking photos and chatting among themselves, the next they were shouting abuse and hurling missiles.

As they were forced into the streets to the north of Oxford Street, breaking and reforming like a wave, there were numerous explosions of violence.

In one case protesters lit a fire in the middle of the street, in another they ripped down protective fencing around a building site and hurled it at police. Many windows were broken, including those of a shop selling organic products.

The air echoed to the sound of whistles, drums, police surveillance helicopters and chants of "Bash them" and "Kill the pigs!"

The crowd was almost exclusively made up of young people, some as young as ten or eleven.

One young boy said: "I'm just here for a laugh. It's fun to throw stuff at the pigs (police)."

Most of crowd did not get involved in any vandalism or missile hurling. A hard core of several hundred people, however, communicating with each other by mobile phone, moved from trouble spot to trouble spot, goading the police and throwing projectiles at them.

As the crowds were slowly broken up and moved on they left behind them streets strewn with broken glass, planks of woods, burnt cardboard, uprooted plants and discarded placards bearing anti-capitalist slogans. A green Jaguar car near Oxford Circus had its front bumper ripped off.

Pockets of violence continued to erupt as darkness fell, although a massive police presence seemed to be in control of the situation.

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UK Metropolitan Police

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4:30pm ET, 4/16

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