London: In a unique protest, Greenpeace activists on Monday covered 17 statues in London, including the iconic Nelson's Column at Trafalgar Square, with gas masks to demand action against rising air pollution.
The activists fixed iconic monuments like Nelson's Column and statues outside the British Parliament complex with symbolic gas masks on the faces of famous figures.
"We've climbed Nelson's Column in protest at dangerous air pollution... 40,000 lives are cut short by air pollution in the UK every year," Greenpeace tweeted.
Alison Garrigan, 29, and 30-year-old Luke Jones began climbing the 171-foot Nelson's column at 9:30 am on Monday as part of their series of stunts, which led to eight arrests for public order offences and on suspicion of criminal damage.
Other statues that were fixed with gas masks included Sherlock Holmes at Baker Street, Queen Victoria opposite Buckingham Palace, Winston Churchill and Oliver Campbell outside the Houses of Parliament, Eros at Piccadilly Circus and Thierry Henry outside Arsenal FC's Emirates Stadium in north London.
"Monitoring shows that, if these statutes were real people, many of them would often be breathing dangerous, illegal air," said Greenpeace campaigner Areeba Hamid.
"That's why we've given them face masks. Of course many millions of Londoners, including kids, are breathing that same air," Hamid said.
The group wants the UK government to focus on greener public transport, push electric vehicles and create clean air zones around schools and hospitals.
Ambulance crews and police officers were on stand-by at Trafalgar Square before the activists began their descent after nearly five hours.
"At approximately 4.10 am today, 18 April police were called to a group of six protesters trying to climb Nelson's Column in Trafalgar Square," said a Scotland Yard spokesperson.
"At around 9 am the protesters came down from the column - two people were arrested on suspicion of criminal damage. At approximately 6.25 am two protesters scaled the Cromwell Statue in Parliament Square. Shortly after 7 am, both voluntarily came down and were arrested," the spokesperson said.
Two other persons were arrested at the scene in connection with this incident. All four were arrested for public order offences.
"At around 8.15 am, two people were arrested after scaling the Duke of Wellington Memorial in Hyde Park Corner. Both were arrested on suspicion of criminal damage," the spokesperson said.
Since 2005 London has broken World Health Organisation guidelines on safe air quality every year.