Dover braces itself for NF march on asylum hostel

The National Front will today be allowed to march in Dover to stir up emotions over the recent arrival of Romany asylum seekers. Ian Burrell hears anti-nazi groups blame the Government's hard line on immigration for a new climate of hatred.
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The sight of the National Front parading through ethnically mixed areas behind a cluster of Union flags was thought to have been consigned to the annals of modern British history as an unsavoury footnote on Seventies politics.

Left in disarray by the splintering of the far-right over the past 20 years, the party has dwindled to a handful of supporters. Yet to the horror of anti-nazi protesters, Kent Police have given the go-ahead for the NF to hold a march today between the Hoverport and East Docks at Dover, key points of entry into the United Kingdom.

The march is intended to end close to a hostel that has become home to some of the 1,000 or so Romany refugees from eastern Europe who arrived in Britain last month to a chorus of complaints about benefit scrounging. The asylum seekers have been dubbed "the Giro Czechs" by the British press. and the opportunity has been seized by the far-right who have descended on Dover circulating leaflets saying: "Dover In Crisis. Invasion Alert".

The first attempt at a public march by the NF in more than four years has triggered plans for a major counter demonstration. Protesters have pledged to form a human protective wall around the asylum hostel and coach loads of protesters will arrive this morning from London, Birmingham, France and other parts of Kent.

Julie Waterson of the Anti-Nazi League said that the Government was partly culpable for creating the conditions on which bigotry has fed. "It is horrendous that a Labour government who are verbally committed to anti- racism and saying they want to stop racist violence are allowing a demonstration and march around Dover where people who are fleeing persecution are being held," she said.

The controversy surrounding the Romany asylum seekers increased this week as a further coach load arrived in London.

The National Coalition of Anti-Deportation Campaigns, which is co-ordinating the Dover protest, blamed the march on Michael O'Brien, the immigration minister, who recently announced a reduction in the time allowed for asylum appeals.

Kent police said only the Home Secretary had the power to ban the march. A force spokesman said that the NF marchers will be limited to 50 and have been warned not to carry placards which might be "racist inflammatory abusive or insulting". A similar restriction on numbers has been put on the counter demonstration.

The Home Office said that Jack Straw, the Home Secretary, could only stop the march if a senior police officer applied to the District Council for a ban on public processions under the Public Order Act.