Thousands attend counter-demo as EDL march through east London
PUBLISHED: 17:39 07 September 2013 | UPDATED: 09:45 09 September 2013
Anti-fascist protestors claimed victory today as thousands turned out to demonstrate against far right group the English Defence League (EDL).
Violence was largely avoided as a huge police presence of 3,000 officers kept anti-fascist campaigners separate from EDL demonstrators.
Organisers claimed more than 4,000 people turned out to oppose the EDL, while the number of far right demonstrators was reported to be around 600.
The Metropolitan Police confirmed eight EDL members and two anti-fascists demonstrators were arrested during the protests.
Scuffles between protestors and police did break out when a splinter group left Unite Against Fascism’s (UAF) main demonstration in Whitechapel’s Altab Ali Park. After marching down the closed off Whitechapel Road, the protestors – mainly dressed in black with scarves covering their faces – ran towards Tower Bridge where the EDL march was passing through.
But they were met by a massive police presence in Commercial Road, where some were involved in altercations with officers as officers mainly prevented them getting anywhere near the far right demonstration.
Once the EDL did reach Aldgate, police kept them separate from the thousands of peaceful opposition protestors gathered hundreds of metres away in Whitechapel.
Speakers at the counter-demonstration included Tower Hamlets Mayor Lutfur Rahman, left-wing author Owen Jones, and Max Levitas, a 97-year-old survivor of the 1936 Battle of Cable Street in which anti-fascists defeated Oswald Mosley’s blackshirts.
“This today is taking me back many, many years to the battle of Cable Street,” Mr Levitas told the crowd.
“Fascists will not march in the East End of London!”
And Owen Jones added: “Wherever the menace of Islamophobia emerges, we must drive it back.
“Today this is our message to the EDL; we are one community. We will not rest until we drive this poison off the streets of this community.”
Police stopped reporters entering the EDL rally in Aldgate, which was limited by Scotland Yard to 30 minutes, and was also prevented from following its original planned route towards Altab Ali Park and the East London Mosque.
At a High Court challenge yesterday, lawyers for the organisation said the group wanted to march in Tower Hamlets because they claimed it was subject to Sharia law, and that people had been assaulted for failing to comply.
The East London Mosque’s chairman, Dr Muhammad Abdul Bari, dismissed the claims, inviting those with questions about Islam to visit the Mosque.
“If they have any issues, let’s talk,” he said. “It is a civilised society, and they should come to talk.
“This is a message to the EDL that they should consider Tower Hamlets as a community comprising diverse people, and we are one community and we want to live in peace,” added Dr Bari.
Unite Against Fascism’s Tower Hamlets organiser, Stuart Curlett, described the event as “fantastic”.
He said: “Black, white, Muslim, Jewish all came out, and we have shown the EDL what east London actually looks like, which is a multi-cultural community.”
Police confirmed that of the 10 arrests made at the demonstration, two were for possession of a pointed blade or article, two were for possession of explosive substances, one was for criminal damage, one was for violent disorder, and four were for public order offences.