Police fear ban on Islamic extremists' march will inflame protests

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Politicians, police chiefs and Muslim groups yesterday added their voices to the controversy surrounding the threat by a group of Islamic extremists to march through Wootton Bassett, the market town which has become the grieving focal point for Britain's war dead.

Plans by Islam4UK to parade through the town carrying empty coffins to symbolise those "mercilessly murdered" in Iraq and Afghanistan have outraged the Home Secretary so much that he said he would have no hesitation in backing any request by Wiltshire police and the local authority to ban the march.

No date for the march has been set, but Islam4UK said it would make an application to police "in the next few days". If officers feel it could spark violence the force can apply to the local authority for a ban. The final decision to ban rests with Alan Johnson.

Yesterday Sir Hugh Orde, the president of the Association of Chief Police Officers, said that a ban could inflame tensions, any decision to do so would surprise him, and people had "a right to march". He said: "It can be the case that if you ban something it becomes more popular to turn up to. You then have a mass unlawful protest."

In the Commons, Justice minister Michael Wills echoed comments made by the Prime Minister and David Cameron in condemning the proposed march and said it would "be treated with repugnance by every decent person in this country".

The Wiltshire Islamic Cultural Centre has asked the police not to allow the march to go ahead and said in a statement it "unreservedly condemned" it.

Sky News reported that Islam4UK said it would call off the march if Gordon Brown agreed to a televised debate on Afghanistan.