Small anti-Islam protests in cities and towns across country, but attendees outnumbered by police and anti-fascist demonstrators
Far-right groups and their opponents scuffled in London on Saturday as protesters attacking Islam gathered in cities and towns all over Britain.
Small groups of English Defence League supporters met in cities and towns including Sheffield, Cambridge and Colchester, and 150 members of the British National party met at Westminster. In London and elsewhere, the protesters were outnumbered by police and anti-fascist demonstrators.
The protests were triggered by the killing of Drummer Lee Rigby in Woolwich last week by two men who claimed to be acting in the name of Islam.
Police said 31 people were arrested after members of Unite against Fascism refused to move to let the BNP march to the Cenotaph in Whitehall.
One BNP supporter who was injured in a scuffle said: “I’ve put my best suit on today and come out for a peaceful demonstration and this is what’s happened. And to think they call us thugs!”
Police had earlier rejected a plan by the BNP – which claims to be anti-extremist but which opponents say is racist and anti-Islam – to march from the site of the killing in south-east London to a nearby Islamic centre.
Police, politicians and activists have reported a rise in anti-Muslim incidents since Rigby’s death on 22 May.
On Friday, Rigby’s family released a plea for peace, saying “Lee would not want people to use his name as an excuse to carry out attacks against others.”
The two prime suspects in the killing were recently discharged from hospitals after being shot by police on the day of the killing. Michael Adebowale, 22, has been charged with murder, while 28-year-old Michael Adebolajo is being questioned.
Several others have been arrested and questioned in connection with the attack. Most have been released on bail.
On Saturday afternoon BNP leader Nick Griffin said: “I believe that by being here today we have at least taken a step to taking the debate to where it needs to be. Not about whether the terrible murder of Lee Rigby was isolated, something which will never happen again. We’re pointing out that it will happen again and again and again until the west disengages with Islam and they leave our country.”
In Edinburgh, the Scottish Defence League protested outside the Scottish parliament, while Unite Against Fascism organised a counter-protest. Police kept the two groups apart but the protesters dispersed without incident.