60 arrested in EDL protest clashes

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The Independent Online

Sixty people were arrested after far-right demonstrators clashed with police at protests in the capital.

Scuffles broke out and bottles and firecrackers were thrown by members of the English Defence League (EDL) as riot police, mounted police and dogs turned out on the streets in large numbers to maintain control.

By early evening yesterday 16 people had been arrested for a variety of offences including affray, drunk and disorderly and assault on a police officer.

Later 44 people on a coach were arrested on suspicion of violent disorder, Scotland Yard said.

Skirmishes broke out during the afternoon as EDL leader Stephen "Tommy" Lennon addressed a crowd, telling them he had broken his bail conditions to be at the protest. He was not one of those arrested.

The group had told Scotland Yard it planned to lead a "static demonstration" in the wake of a 30-day ban by Home Secretary Theresa May on marching in six areas.

There had been fears of potential unrest ahead of the protest, centred on the deprived inner city borough of Tower Hamlets.

Mrs May also banned marches in Newham, Waltham Forest, Islington, Hackney and the City of London.

More than 3,000 officers were made available amid fears of violence and clashes with opposition groups including Unite Against Fascism.

Police vans from forces including Cumbria, Lancashire and Grampian could be seen on the streets.

Campaigners have been in ongoing negotiations with police chiefs in the wake of tough measures introduced by Mrs May.

It is the first time since the Brixton riots 30 years ago that police have requested powers to stop marches in London.

Scuffles broke out as Lennon addressed the chanting crowd, many of whom were waving banners and flags.

He said: "I'm meant to sign on at a police station on a Saturday, I'm not doing that.

"I'm not allowed to go to a demonstration, I'm not doing that.

"The credible outcome is I will be put on remand in prison for my democratic right.

"That's what's going to happen and when I go to court if they let me out of court with any bail conditions that restrict my democratic right to oppose militant Islam, I will break them the minute I walk out."

EDL founder Lennon was convicted in July of leading a street brawl with 100 football fans in August last year.

The 28-year-old, from Luton, Bedfordshire, was found guilty of using threatening, abusive or insulting behaviour and leading Luton's hooligans into a fight after a trial at Luton and South Bedfordshire Magistrates' Court.

The father of three was sentenced to a 12-month community rehabilitation order, 150 hours of unpaid work and hit with a three-year football banning order. He was also ordered to pay £650 in costs.

At one point yesterday a Scotland Yard spokesman said two groups had gathered in east London - one of around 1,000 people, believed to be EDL members, at Aldgate Tube, and a separate group of around 1,500 counter-protesters in Whitechapel Road at its junction with Aldgate East.

"A robust and proportionate policing plan is in place to facilitate peaceful protest, prevent disorder and minimise disruption on the local communities," the spokesman said.

"We are committed to taking action against anyone who engages in criminal acts. We continue to appeal for people to remain calm."

EDL protesters were dispersed after mounted police and riot police led them across Tower Bridge.

Several were seen receiving medical attention from officers.

Later police moved EDL supporters travelling on a coach out of Tower Hamlets after the vehicle broke down outside Stepney Green Underground station.

Police said all the passengers on the coach were arrested after two altercations.

At about 6.30pm the coach containing demonstrators stopped in Whitechapel Road and there was an altercation with local youths after some passengers got off.

There was a further disturbance shortly afterwards when the coach broke down outside the station.