Far-right activists clashed with police in London on Saturday, saying they were in the city to protect the monuments from anti-racist protesters.
British nationalists, including Britain First, Football Lads Alliance and other groups, have appealed ahead of the weekend protests in an effort to protect the statues they believe are essential to British culture and history. The main objective of their actions was the statue of Churchill at the Cenotaph, a war memorial on Whitehall in London.
The Churchill statue had been taken in to protect itself after Black Lives Matter protesters scribbled “is a racist” on it. Protesters against police brutality and racism had taken to demolishing other statues, most of them slave traders, which Prime Minister Boris Johnson called an attempt “to lie about our history.”
Crowds of mostly white far-right activists clashed with police outside the cenotaph, throwing traffic cones, flag posts and flares at police before breaking through police barriers, according to the BBC. The police returned fire with batons to maintain his line.
The activists, some wearing “White Lives Matter” or “Proud Loyalist” shirts, then moved to Trafalgar Square, where police directed them to prevent a clash with Black Lives Matter protesters in Hyde Park.
Many in the crowd chanted “Ingerland, Ingerland, Ingerland,” and chanted “God Save the Queen.” The Telegraph estimated that 3,000 people had turned out, most of them drinking beer throughout the events.
Government officials immediately denounced the violence, with London Mayor Sadiq Khan warning residents to stay away.
“This is totally unacceptable. We will not tolerate attacks on our police and the perpetrators will feel the full force of the law,” Khan tweeted Saturday. It is clear that far-right groups are at the root of violence and disorder in central London, I urge people to stay away. »
Interior Minister Priti Patel called the violence “totally unacceptable.”
“Any perpetrator of violence or vandalism should expect to face the full force of the law. Violence against our police officers will not be tolerated,” she tweeted, adding a warning about coronavirus and urging residents to return home.
Black Lives Matter organizers had urged people not to attend rallies this weekend in anticipation of unrest by far-right groups. Britain First organiser Paul Golding had posted videos throughout the week in which he called BLM a “despicable racist group,” and the group had organised a number of White Lives Matter events across the UK.
Protesters showed up in cities across the UK almost in defiance of counter-demonstrations, including in Newcastle, Glasgow, Birmingham, Manchester and Belfast.
Met police issued a section 60 order, giving police greater power to arrest and search citizens. The decision to extend powers was granted after the Met received reports of individuals coming to the city with weapons.
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Police moved to clear the area around Waterloo Station as news of “pyrotechnics and knives” raised concerns of further violence overnight.
The demonstrations were scheduled to end at 5 p.m. (Paris time), but it does not appear that all protesters or activists have complied.