Two groups took part in event castigated as a lame attempt to whip up Islamophobia following Westminster attack
At least 14 people have been arrested after rival groups clashed during protests in central London, the Metropolitan police have said.
Fewer than 300 members of the far-right groups Britain First and the English Defence League turned up for their march against terrorism, a turnout castigated by opponents as a lame attempt to whip up Islamophobia in the wake of the Westminster attack.
The anti-Islam groups had organised separate demonstrations that finished on the Victoria Embankment, close to Westminster Bridge, where a terror attack 10 days ago killed four people and injured 50. A similar number of Unite Against Fascism (UAF) demonstrators convened a short distance away chanting Racist scum, but were kept at bay by several lines of police.
During the march itself, some UAF supporters got close to the Britain First marchers, among them Barry Kader, 23, from Bristol, who said: Fascism needs to be challenged at street level. These marches can encourage people, it can help with their public support.
Paul Golding, the leader of Britain First, who was released from prison in January for breaching a high court ban by entering a mosque, addressed supporters waving some of the 400 union jack flags made by his mother on Friday night.
Earlier, as the marchers moved from Charing Cross station, Goldings mother Chris had said of the flags: They really lift the march, they look lovely.
Following a a recital of the Lords prayer, Golding warned his audience about east Londons Brick Lane and its apparent mobs, telling supporters he was also finding it impossible to eat tikka masala now because of the preponderance of halal meat. Golding added: We are the face of the future.
Yet the turnout must have been a disappointment. Britain First has 1.6 million Facebook followers and more than 2,700 had expressed an interest in going to the march.
Among those that did turn up was John Lillywhite, 78, who was on his debut demonstration and had turned up because he felt the the government didnt understand the threat of Islam.
Despite an instruction from Golding not to talk to the media, Britain First organiser Angela Holbrooks, from Timperley, near Altrincham, Greater Manchester, said: We need to keep our streets safe for our women and children, stop them raping our kids. If anyone says anything about Muslims, then theyre attacked. But the Muslims dont want to integrate.
Retired firefighter Steve Green, 52, from Gravesend, Kent, said he attended the march because he was scared of the growing Muslim population. Politicians are doing nothing to protect us. They dont want to mix. My daughter will be forced to wear a burqa at this rate.
At the UAF counter-rally, which included representatives of trade unions, and faith and community groups, speakers praised the unity shown by Londoners following the Westminster attack and condemned attempts to use the attack to stir hatred and division.
Weyman Bennett, UAF joint secretary, said: While we recognise that this despicable attempt to use the outrage of the Westminster attack to whip up hate fell flat, this should not be cause for complacency. These groups remain intent on stirring racial and religious hatred and must be opposed wherever they rear their head.
The murder of Jo Cox, the shocking rise in hate crime, and the rise of the far right in Europe show that it is critical we unite against fascism, racism, Islamophobia and antisemitism at this time.
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