UK climate group calls temporary halt to disruptive protests

LONDON (AP) — The U.K. division of climate change protest group Extinction Rebellion says its activists would temporarily stop blocking busy roads, gluing themselves to buildings and engaging in other acts of civil disobedience because such methods have not achieved their desired effects.

“As we ring in the new year, we make a controversial resolution to temporarily shift away from public disruption as a primary tactic," the group said in a New Year's Eve website post. “We recognize and celebrate the power of disruption to raise the alarm and believe that constantly evolving tactics is a necessary approach.”

To further its goals of getting politicians, corporations and the public “to end the fossil fuel era,” the group said it would instead focus on broadening its support with actions such as getting 100,000 people to surround the Houses of Parliament in London on April 21.

“In a time when speaking out and taking action are criminalized, building collective power, strengthening in number and thriving through bridge-building is a radical act,” the website post said. “This year, we prioritize attendance over arrest and relationships over roadblocks, as we stand together and become impossible to ignore.”

In response to protests by Extinction Rebellion and other direct-action groups, Britain’s Conservative government last year toughened police powers to shut down disruptive protests and increased penalties for obstructing roads, which can now bring a prison sentence.

Even tougher moves were rejected by Parliament, but the government planned to try again to pass a law that would make it a criminal offense to interfere with infrastructure. Civil liberties groups have decried the moves as restrictions on free speech and the right to protest.

In the four years since Extinction Rebellion formed, the group has attracted both praise and criticism with climate demonstrations that were designed to be disruptive and often led to mass arrests while succeeding in snarling road and port traffic.

In April, British police said six people were arrested after activists climbed onto an oil tanker and blocked four London bridges to protest investments in fossil fuel. Extinction Rebellion said at the time that two former British Olympic athletes, gold medal-winning canoeist Etienne Stott and sailor Laura Baldwin, were among the protesters.

In its Sunday post titled “We Quit,” the U.K. branch of Extinction Rebellion said that while the group has helped bring about “a seismic shift” in the climate conversation, “very little has changed. Emissions continue to rise and our planet is dying at an accelerated rate.”

The group said it thinks a confluence of multiple crises made it the right time to try a new approach. In its announcement about the April protest, it said, “Surrounding the Houses of Parliament day after day in large numbers means we can leave the locks, glue and paint behind."

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The Associated Press