UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak on Saturday condemned far-right protesters and Hamas sympathisers, as hundreds of thousands of pro-Palestinian supporters marched through London calling for a ceasefire in Israel’s war in Gaza.
Nearly 2,000 police were out in force to keep rival groups apart, with the march organised on Armistice Day, the annual event when Britain remembers its war dead with solemn ceremonies at war memorials.
The march went ahead after a week of tensions, which saw the government call for it to be scrapped, and police said they made scores of arrests.
Some 150 people from the mass protest were detained under public order legislation for wearing face coverings and setting off fireworks, while 82 counter-protesters were held to prevent them infiltrating the main march.
Groups of men, many wearing black with their faces covered and waving England’s St George’s flag and the Union Jack, tried to break through police lines at The Cenotaph war memorial on Whitehall.
Police in riot gear then faced a barrage of bottles in nearby Chinatown, the Metropolitan Police said.
“I condemn the violent, wholly unacceptable scenes we have seen today from the EDL (English Defence League) and associated groups and Hamas sympathisers attending the ‘National March for Palestine’,” said Sunak in a statement.
“The despicable actions of a minority of people undermine those who have chosen to express their views peacefully.”
Sunak, who has resisted calls for him to back a ceasefire in Israel’s war with Hamas, said far-right “thugs”, anti-Semitic chants and pro-Hamas signs and clothing had marred remembrance weekend.
“All criminality must be met with the full force of the law,” he added.
About 1,850 police officers, including some from other forces across Britain, have been drafted in to keep the peace.
An exclusion zone was created around central London, including The Cenotaph, where crowds wearing poppies — the symbol of remembrance — gathered to pay their respects in silence, and by laying wreaths.
King Charles III leads a national remembrance event at the war memorial with senior royals, political leaders and veterans on Sunday.
There were other pro-Palestinian rallies elsewhere in Europe, with several thousand turning out in Paris and more than 20,000 in Brussels.
Some of the marchers in the Belgian capital cried out “EU, shame on you” for perceived bias towards Israel at the expense of Palestinian lives and rights.__Daily Hurriyet