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Eco-warriors give London small taste of spill pain

By F. Brinley Bruton, msnbc.com staff

LONDON – As BP CEO Tony Hayward resigned under a cloud Tuesday, thousands of British motorists got an unexpected reminder of the oil spill that's wreaked havoc in the Gulf of Mexico.

Protesters with the environmental group Greenpeace said they shut off fuel supplies at 46 BP gas stations across London just in time for the morning rush-hour. Small teams of activists used a standard shut-off switch to stop the flow of fuel oil at the targeted stations. The switches were then removed to prevent most BP outlets in the capital from opening.

Leon Neal/AFP/Getty Images

Demonstrators stand outside a BP petrol station, which they have barricaded with fences, in London on Tuesday.

And to ensure there was no chance of drivers buying gas, demonstrators in fluorescent vests and helmets locked green metal fences around some sites.

"What BP needs to do is not just change CEOs it needs to actually come up with a new strategy," Greenpeace U.K.’s chief executive John Sauven said at one of the shuttered stations in Camden, north London.

Sauven said BP must live up to its pledge to move "beyond petroleum" and stop focusing on squeezing oil from places like the Gulf of Mexico, Canada's tar sands and the fragile Arctic wilderness.

'Holding us to ransom'
Anna Jones, who was one of the handful up at dawn to ensure gas stations were shuttered, took a harder line.

"Big companies like BP are holding us to ransom, chasing profits at the expense of us," the 29-year-old part-time dance teacher said. "The generation before us is largely responsible and the next generation coming up will have to deal with the consequences."

A BP spokesman described the group's protest as "an irresponsible and childish act which is interfering with safety systems." The firm claimed that only a handful of stations had been prevented from opening.

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Londoners had mixed views on Greenpeace's actions.

Daniel Watson, a 41-year-old teacher and tuba player, said BP should recognize the problems of global warming and dependence on petroleum products.

"We are still living in the illusion that we can live on fossil fuels indefinitely," he added. "There is this kind of approach that it is somebody else’s problem."

Golden handshake
Big firms also need to stop handing out big packages to disgraced executives, he said. Hayward's golden handshake included a $1.6 million payoff and pension pot valued at about $17 million.

"We need controls so that doing a bad job doesn’t get rewarded," Watson said.

Steve, who has driven a London cab for 37 years and only gave his first name, said he wanted to do something to "save the whales" but branded the protests targeting gas station as "stunts."

However, Hayward's payout and the behavior of many other executives left the cabbie annoyed.

"Some of cleverest guys can be the stupidest when it comes to the real world – I see that in my job all the time."

But not everyone thought Greenpeace was on the right track.

"Is everybody going to skip driving cars, heating our houses, flying? Get a grip,” said Kathy Wallace, a Canadian who was on her way home to Scotland. “The environment is going to hell anyway, we've already ruined it. All we can do is control the situation."