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Climate protesters cause chaos at British airport

A protester (L) sits at the end of a runway at Stansted Airport following a protest by the climate action group "Plane Stupid" on December 8, 2008. Four people were arrested early Monday after some 50 demonstrators against global warming broke in to a secure area of Stansted Airport near London, police said. Photo courtesy AFP.
by Staff Writers
London (AFP) Dec 8, 2008
Environmental activists cut through a fence and took over a runway at London's third main airport on Monday forcing the cancellation of more than 50 flights.

Stansted Airport closed its only runway for about three hours, re-opening around 0800 GMT after police arrested 57 people who had breached the perimeter fence using bolt-cutters under cover of darkness.

The protest prompted budget Irish airline Ryanair, which cancelled more than 50 flights, to call for an urgent review of security at the airport which serves as its main hub.

The Plane Stupid protest group was demonstrating against the British government's decision to allow the airport to build a second runway.

One activist, Lily Kember, 21, said protesters entered the airport, erected fencing around themselves and were able to sit on a site near where airplanes taxi before taking off and landing.

"Being arrested is a terrifying prospect, but not nearly as terrifying as the threat of climate change," she said.

Stansted's commercial manager Nick Barton said the activists had driven up to the airport in an "old fire engine".

"It probably didn't look out of place in all honesty as there are a number of emergency services vehicles around the site," he said.

"They managed to cut through the fence. As soon as they were through, they ran through the gap they had created and brought the fence panels to barricade themselves in."

He said airport security staff had prevented the activists from reaching the runway.

"Our site is 2,000 acres in size and the perimeter is enormous," he said. "But they were stopped well short of the runway."

He said he hoped the airport would be able to "recover quite well" from the impact of the protest, but admitted it would cause delays throughout the day.

Ryanair said it had to cancel 56 flights in and out of Stansted, including services to Dublin, Prestwick in Scotland, Frankfurt, Genoa, Oslo and Berlin.

The Irish budget airline said it was calling for an investigation into security at the airport. "We need to know what measures the BAA is putting in place to prevent" such security failures, said a spokesman.

One passenger affected by the disruption, Lainey Mace, from Norfolk in eastern England, said the protesters had won little support among travellers.

She said: "They have caused great inconvenience.

"It is very worrying that protesters were able to get either close to the runway or on the runway."

Plane Stupid said in a statement that aviation was the fastest-growing source of emissions and already contributed to at least 13 percent of Britain's carbon emissions.

It said the disruption to flights would prevent "the release of thousands of tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere."

The group has staged other high-profile demonstrations against the expansion of London airports.

Its members climbed onto the roof of the Houses of Parliament in February to protest against proposals to add a third runway at Heathrow, which is already one of the busiest airports in the world.

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