Huge crowds assembled today in East London, vowing to ‘defend their community’ from the far-right group, the English Defence League.
Amid a large police presence of around 3,000 officers, hundreds of residents and anti-fascist campaigners converged along Whitechapel Road close to the East London mosque, a self-proclaimed target for some members of the EDL. Muslims accused the group of targeting them and holding them as figures of hate.
In the wake of the riots which engulfed London last month, security has remained very high across the capital. The deployment of some officers kitted out in riot gear along with police dogs was a stark reminder of last month’s disturbances.
Home Secretary, Theresa May, outlawed marches in the City of London just days ago amid fears of violence and disorder if the planned march by the EDL went ahead. This was broken as thousands of protesters made their way across London today, the EDL greatly outnumbered by counter-protesters from groups such as United Against Fascism and the Muslim Defence League.
Speaking at the rally in East London, Ken Livingstone, the Labour candidate for London mayor, said in a statement: “I’m delighted that in response to the divisive, hateful policies of the EDL, today will see a celebration of the strength and cohesion of multicultural Tower Hamlets.
“This is the right response to the EDL. It is a fitting riposte to those who peddle hatred, violence and fear”.
EDL founder, Stephen Lennon, was present at the protests despite it being in breach of his bail conditions. He stood to address the crowd disguised in a wide-brimmed hat and fake beard before revealing himself.
In his speech he said: “I’m meant to sign on at a police station on a Saturday, I’m not doing that.
“I’m not allowed to go to a demonstration, I’m not doing that.
“The credible outcome is I will be put on remand in prison for my democratic right.”
A little after midday, the Casuals United blog reported that 1,000 EDL had arrived at King’s Cross and a further 300 at Liverpool Street Station. An earlier report statedthat there were also 500 EDL supporters at pubs in Covent Garden. Last year’s UAF anti-EDL gathering in the East London borough managed to attract around 5,000 local residents, the majority of which were Muslims.
At around 1.20pm, King’s Cross station was closed due to a fire alert. This prevented the majority of the EDL supporters, which were gathering outside, from travelling to the demonstration for around half an hour.
The protests are said to be related to the actions of the right-wing extremist and anti-Muslim fanatic, Anders Breivik, who admitted killing 77 people in July when he detonated a bomb in the Norwegian capital, Oslo before embarking on a shooting spree at a Labour youth camp on the nearby Utøya island. The EDL demonstration is its first since the killings by Brievik, who had praised the organisation in the past and claimed to have 600 EDL supporters as friends on Facebook.
Along Whitechapel Road, hundreds of anti-EDL protesters held posters and placards showing pictures of Brievik and Tommy Robinson, the founder of the EDL, captioned with the message: “Different faces, same hatred.”
The protests ended relatively peacefully, with the EDL dispersing in one direction and the anti-EDL protesters going in another. By early evening, 16 people had been arrested for a variety of offences including affray, drunk and disorderly and assault on a police officer.
A Met spokesman said: “A robust and proportionate policing plan is in place to facilitate peaceful protest, prevent disorder and minimise disruption on the local communities.
“We are committed to taking action against anyone who engages in criminal acts.
“We continue to appeal for people to remain calm”.
Rival political groups United Against Fascism and the English Defence League are gathering across central and east London today to hold protests against each other.
People in the areas affected – which include King’s Cross, Islington, Tower Hamlets, Aldgate and Euston, so far – have been taking photos and videos.
Police have imposed a section 60 and 60AA order across London today, meaning they can order protestors to remove masks and other face coverings. edit – it also means police can carry out stop and searches at random.
Political leaders and other figures are currently gathered in Tower Hamlets along with UAF supporters, listening to speeches being made there. Meanwhile, the EDL are still travelling around London.
Image via @BanTheEdl, Twitter. Scottish Defence League assembling in Tower Hamlets
via Matthew Taylor – large EDL gathering outside the Flying Scotsman on Caledonian Road.
via Paraic O’Brien – police stopping and searching a coach which is said to contain EDL travelling to Tower Hamlets.
via leninology – trade unionists’ gathering in Whitechapel.
editor’s note: this page will not act as a liveblog unless serious disorder starts, but we will update it through the afternoon as interesting snippets come through. As always, WL does not support or condone either side – we just do our best to report the facts.
Theresa May, the Home Secretary, has authorised the Commissioner of the Met Police to prohibit protest marches from taking place in five London boroughs during September.
The decision comes as the English Defence League announced plans to march through Tower Hamlets. EDL marches tend to be directly confronted by the Unite Against Fascism group, amongst others, which has led to disorder in the past.
“Having carefully considered the legal tests in the Public Order Act and balanced rights to protest against the need to ensure local communities and property are protected,” said the Home Secretary, “I have given my consent to a ban on all marches in Tower Hamlets and four neighbouring boroughs for a 30-day period.”
The neighbouring boroughs are Newham, Waltham Forest, Islington, and Hackney.
Static demonstrations are not affected by the ban, however, and the EDL plan to hold a static gathering instead. Neither the government nor the police can ban a static demonstration unless it is held on private property.
Chief Superintendant Julia Pendry, of the Met Police, said: “We have made this decision based on specific intellgence and information, and our message is clear, we do not want people coming into the areas to attend these events.”
Section 13 of the Public Order Act 1986 gives the Met Commissioner the power to make an order banning marches and processions in London, subject to permission from the Home Secretary. If a prohibited march goes ahead, the organisers can be arrested and fined £2,500 or jailed for 3 months. People taking part in a banned march can be fined up to £1,000.
A march can only be banned where the police consider that it would result in serious public disorder and that placing restrictions on it – for example, on its duration, location and size – would not be enough to prevent disorder. The local council must support the police assessment before a formal application can be made to the Home Secretary.
The ban on marches does not apply where the procession is one commonly or customarily held in the police area in which it is proposed to be held. Funeral processions are also exempt.
Image via Jerry Daykin, Flickr.