Welcome to the new Independent website. We hope you enjoy it and we value your feedback. Please contact us here.

Home News

Anti-Islamists target Palestinian rally in central London

Fury as Muslim meeting is switched to Pall Mall while right-wingers protest in Trafalgar Square

The right-wing group behind a series of anti-Islamist protests which have ended in running street battles is planning to demonstrate today in London's Trafalgar Square.

A pro-Palestinian rally scheduled several months ago has been switched to neighbouring Pall Mall, much to the anger of the organisers. They blamed the decision on the English Defence League (EDL) and other right-wing groups.

Raza Kazim, spokesman for the Islamic Human Rights Commission, said: "At the last minute after months of negotiation, the Greater London Authority told us we are not allowed to go ahead with the rally in Trafalgar Square. Instead of standing up to threats they have capitulated. A place that was to be used to raise voices against fascism is now being given over to the very bigots we are supposed to be standing against."

Scotland Yard said it was powerless to prevent the protest provided it remained a "static demonstration".

The details emerged as Communities Secretary John Denham warned of a surge in fascist extremism designed to provoke violence on Britain's streets. He said the tactics employed were the same as those used by Oswald Mosley's British Union of Fascists blackshirt campaigns in the 1930s.

"I think that the EDL and other organisations are not large numbers of people. They clearly, though, have among them people who know what they're doing," he said. "The tactic of trying to provoke a response in the hope of causing wider violence and mayhem is long established on the far-right and among extremist groups.

"You could go back to the 1930s if you wanted to – Cable Street and all of those types of things," he said, referring to the day in 1936 when violence broke out as Mosley tried to lead a column into the heavily Jewish district of Whitechapel in London's East End. Mr Denham later insisted the situation was not as bad as the 1930s but warned the threat be taken seriously before it escalated.

The central London demonstration follows clashes between protesters, anti-fascist groups and police in Luton, Birmingham and north London.

The EDL, originally formed by football supporters in Luton, claims to be a non-violent group campaigning against Muslim fundamentalism but is alleged to have links to former hooligan networks and known British National Party agitators. It was formed in March in reaction to barracking by Muslim protesters at soldiers from the Royal Anglian Regiment parading through Luton on their return from Iraq. On Friday, 500 riot officers broke up a crowd of 2,000 Muslim youths who gathered to defend Harrow central mosque from a planned protest by the EDL-affiliated group Stop the Islamisation of Europe. Police made 10 arrests as the two groups attempted to confront each other.

Birmingham city centre has twice seen running battles between the EDL and the campaign group Unite Against Fascism, and unofficial marches have been temporarily banned from Luton town centre following violence.

The EDL's spokesman, a 28-year-old carpenter from Luton who uses the name Tommy Robinson, said the group was quickly gathering nationwide support through social networking sites. He stressed they are a non-violent organisation aiming to protest against Islamic fundamentalism in the UK. BNP leader Nick Griffin has distanced his party from the group. Despite this, anti-fascist campaigners say some of EDL's key organisers have been BNP members.

Gerry Gable of the anti-fascist magazine Searchlight said: "We're faced with an upsurge in fascist groups, and it's a real problem. This could do more damage to community relations than anything since the Oldham and Bradford riots of 2001 and 2002."