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BP faces angry oil spill protesters at AGM

By Tom Bergin

LONDON (Reuters) - BP's <BP.L> annual shareholder meeting was disrupted by campaigners protesting against the oil giant's role in the Gulf of Mexico spill, while investors registered their disapproval with big votes against directors.

A group of five campaigners from the Gulf, one of whom had covered themselves in a black oil-like substance, were refused entry to the meeting on Thursday by security guards and police, as a brass band -- part of another protest involving BP workers -- played in the background.

"They will not let me in," said Diane Wilson, the late middle-aged woman who was photographed smeared in oil at a congressional hearing where BP's former chief executive Tony Hayward testified last June.

"I came to talk about what is going on in the Gulf," she said.

Police said a 62-year-old woman was arrested for "breach of the peace."

However, some other protesters who had bought shares did gain access to the hall in the docklands, in east London, where the Annual General Meeting was being held, and, along with shareholders, quizzed management on its safety record. The company said it was working to change BP's culture.

Nonetheless, 25 percent of investors who voted ahead of the AGM -- representing 60 percent of shares -- voted against the re-election of the head of BP's safety committee, Bill Castell.

BP's chairman faced a vote of 7 percent against his re-election.

"Ninety-three percent for, I feel very glad for that support," he told Reuters after the meeting.

Last year, directors of top UK companies were, on average, re-elected with less than 2 percent of the vote against them, according to data from corporate governance adviser PIRC.

As in previous AGMs BP faced criticism for its tar sands operations in Canada and security guards carried four protesters from the convention hall.

A spokesman for BP said the party from the Gulf was refused entry and the other protesters were carried out because the company has an obligation to run an orderly AGM.

Investors also voiced concern about a planned tie-up with Russian state-owned Rosneft which has sparked a spat with BP's oligarch partners in another Russian oil company, TNK-BP <TNBP.MM>.

Chief Executive Bob Dudley said he had tried many options to soothe the billionaires without success.

(Additional reporting by Sarah Young and Olesya Dmitracova; Editing by Jon Loades-Carter)

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