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Saturday, 20 March 2010

Dozens arrested as anti-Muslim English Defence League protestors battle rivals

The Bolton EDL march news so far

Riot police have been battling to control thousands of rival demonstrators taking part in an ill-tempered city centre protest organised by a controversial right-wing group.

Hundreds of officers, some horse-mounted and armed with batons, were separating supporters the English Defence League (EDL) and members of Unite Against Fascism (UAF).

A number of officers have been injured in ugly clashes and two members of the public were taken to a shop for treatment after being caught up in the trouble. A series of smoke bombs were also set off as UAF groups chanted “fascist scum off our streets".

A police helicopter has been dispatched to assist the officers on the ground.
The EDL organised the rally in Bolton, Lancashire, to protest against "radical Muslims" and Sharia law, but so far they have been out-numbered by more than 2,000 anti-fascist UAF supporters who organised a counter-protest.

Police have arrested 31 UAF protesters and three from the EDL. Hundreds more EDL supporters are expected to arrive this afternoon.

Assistant Chief Constable Garry Shewan, who is leading the operation for Greater Manchester Police, said: “There have been unwarranted attacks on police lines that have resulted in injuries.

“This is not a peaceful protest and we are facing a lot of hostility. The number of arrests already made is a clear indication that this is not a peaceful protest and some demonstrators are determined to cause trouble. This is not acceptable.”

The protest is taking place in front of the town hall, which has been boarded up to prevent any damage. Many local pubs and shops have closed and taxi firms have pulled their drivers off the roads.

Council leaders met with Home Secretary Alan Johnson earlier this week in a bid to ban the demonstration, but were told there was no power to do so unless it took place on private property.

The EDL describes itself as a peaceful, non-political group campaigning against “militant Islam”, but a previous rally in Manchester last year turned violent, resulting in 44 arrests and 10 injuries.

A statement on its website instructs followers “not to wave” in case the action is mistaken for a Nazi salute. It adds: “Bolton is a massive opportunity for EDL to show the world that we can peacefully protest, and the world is indeed watching.

“This protest will have a much more defined structure than previous, and we believe you will all enjoy the protest immensely as well as having our say. We will not ever submit to the radicals. We will not tolerate their intolerance. We will stand firm and further the cause of the EDL.”

Second World War veteran Bertie Lois, 89, who is protesting with the UAF, said: “I fought the Second World War against these Nazis. What did I fight for if we let them? The EDL are the enemy. I would say to them ’you are the guys we fought for, what are you doing?’"

Weyman Bennett, joint secretary of UAF, said the group had to stand up to “EDL thugs” to prevent them from spreading their “race hate” message.

He said: “We have beaten fascists and racists before by standing up in unity against them. We cannot stand by and let EDL racists attack Muslims or any section of our community. Those who say we shouldn’t protest are effectively handing over the streets of Bolton to the EDL."