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Wednesday, 27 October 2010

EDL Demo fears

A far-right group’s plans to demonstrate in Preston city centre were today met with condemnation by community leaders.

Police expect up to 1,000 members of the English Defence League (EDL) to converge on the Flag Market on November 27, although organisers say 2,000 have signed up to the protest.

But the number of people taking to the streets could be swelled 
further by counter action from Unite Against Fascism (UAF), which plans to demonstrate against the EDL on the same day “in equal or greater numbers”.

The EDL has notified police and Preston Council of its plans to “peacefully protest in Preston”. It would involve a short walk along Church Street, from the minster to the public square.

The proposals have attracted widespread opposition from religious leaders, trade unionists and councillors, who have signed up to a “unity statement”, while Muslim leaders have appealed to their congregations to ignore the protests.

Meanwhile, EDL organisers
remained defiant that the demo would go ahead.

Salim Mulla, chairman of the Lancashire Council of Mosques said: “We’ve appealed to the Muslim community across Lancashire not to get involved in any demonstrations against the EDL and we don’t give it any prominence whatsoever.”

“Rather than promote these 
people, it’s better to ignore these people.”

And Elyas Desai, prayer leader at the Mahad mosque in Deepdale Road, said: “I don’t think we need a silly group like this to come to Preston to spoil the great harmony we have.”

Nafysa Patel, race hate manager at the Preston and Western Lancashire Racial Equality Council, said the organisation had signed the unity statement and said: “Preston has enjoyed good community relations for many years and, on the whole, the city enjoys the vibrancy and cohesiveness of the diverse society it contains.

“This statement provides us with the opportunity to peacefully voice our opposition to any disruption caused through the EDL presence in our city of Preston.”

Riot police arrested 13 men at a similar protest in Leicester earlier this month involving around 3,000 EDL protesters and 600 from UAF. Several fireworks, bottles and coins were thrown.

Darren Johnson from the Preston Casuals, a division of Casuals United, which he described as the “backbone of the EDL” said recent protests in London and Blackpool had been peaceful.

He said: “It depends how it is on the day but we’re peacefully protesting.

“This demonstration will be going ahead because we’re allowed to do a static demonstration - it’s our democratic right.”

He said the planned new mosque in Watling Street Road was a “symbol of domination”.

Drew Gale, a Labour councillor who represents the town centre ward, said he would be joining the UAF counter-protest and said: “I’ll be standing shoulder to shoulder with the UAF in opposition. I think it’s the duty of right-minded individuals to oppose such things.”

Chief Supt Tim Jacques from Preston Police said officers had the power to impose certain conditions when granting permission but could not ban the groups from demonstrating.

He said: “All we want to do is make sure there’s no crime or disorder as a result of whatever happens.

“If it’s lawful, you have a right to express your opinion as long as public order is maintained.

“At this stage, nothing has been agreed, approved or granted. We’re still in negotiations and we will work with both groups.

“It’s really important to make sure the community is involved in relation to the planning (of the policing) and I’m really confident that is and will continue to happen in Preston.”

He said the fact the demonstration was planned for the same day as Preston North End’s home game with Millwall, who have a notorious hooligan following, would not cause any resourcing problems.

The demo had been planned for November 20 but clashed with Preston’s Christmas lights switch-on, also on the Flag Market.

Lorraine Norris, chief executive of Preston Council, said: “The police, councils and other agencies are fully prepared and are working together closely to manage any static protest to ensure that they are peaceful as Preston respects the right for people to protest peacefully.

“Preston will be open as usual and people should continue to go about their normal business as the police, councils and other agencies will work to minimise disruption to the city centre whilst balancing that against the rights of protesters.”

Lancaster Evening Post